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OBIT-MONTALVO Aug-3-2006 (600 words) With photos. xxxi

Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, former nuncio to U.S., dies at age 76

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Colombia-born Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, who served for seven years as the Vatican's nuncio to the United States, died Aug. 2 in Rome in a hospice run by the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich.

Announcing his death, the Vatican said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, would preside over his Aug. 5 funeral Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

Archbishop Montalvo, 76, was reported to have been suffering from lung cancer.

A career Vatican diplomat, the archbishop arrived in Washington in January 1999 after six years of service as the president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which trains priests to become Vatican diplomats.

Conversant in Spanish, French, English, Italian and German, his background included service in countries torn by violence and in nations where church-state tensions were high.

Before stepping down this past February as nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Montalvo had traveled throughout the country, not simply participating the liturgies marking the installation of new bishops, but also getting to know U.S. Catholics and the situation of the church in the country.

His tenure in the U.S. included a period of great challenges to the Catholic Church in the U.S., particularly as the clerical sex abuse scandal unfolded. In addition, the United States and the Vatican had serious differences over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In June 1999, in his first address to a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Colombian archbishop said that when Pope John Paul II asked him to go to the United States, he accepted the post "not without a certain sense of trepidation."

However, he said, he found himself "in the midst of a church full of vigor, rich in activity, ready to take initiative and looking for solutions to not a few problems which it must face."

The archbishop first gained international attention as a Vatican diplomat in 1982 when Pope John Paul II appointed him assistant mediator in Argentina and Chile's dispute over the Beagle Channel. The Vatican's mediation efforts, which began in 1979 when Argentina and Chile were on the brink of war, ended successfully with Archbishop Montalvo's help in early 1984.

He was born in Bogota Jan. 27, 1930, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1953. His service in the Vatican diplomatic corps began in 1957 and he worked in Vatican embassies in Bolivia, Argentina and El Salvador.

Called to the Vatican's Secretariat of State in 1964, he spent the next 10 years dealing with matters related to the Catholic Church in Eastern Europe. At that time, Catholics in many East European countries were living under strict restrictions imposed by communist governments.

Named an archbishop by Pope Paul VI in 1974, he was appointed nuncio to Honduras and Nicaragua. In 1980, he was named pro-nuncio to Algeria and Tunisia and apostolic delegate in Libya, predominantly Muslim countries with small Catholic communities.

After his service in North Africa, he was named pro-nuncio to Yugoslavia in 1986. He continued in the post as Yugoslavia splintered into several independent nations in conflicts which often found Catholics and Orthodox on opposite sides of the battle line.

Remaining the Vatican's representative to the government of Serbia, he was given the added task of serving as nuncio to Belarus in 1993 and, two weeks later, was given a third job: head of the diplomatic academy. Archbishop Montalvo's duties were reduced slightly in 1994, when another nuncio to Belarus was named. He continued to be the Vatican's representative in Belgrade until 1996.


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