WASHINGTON (CNS) — Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio to the United States since early 2006, “enjoyed the highest respect and deepest affection” of the U.S. bishops and the nation’s Catholics, said New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Archbishop Sambi, 73, died July 27 at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore apparently from complications of lung surgery performed approximately three weeks earlier.
On July 22, the apostolic nunciature in Washington announced that the archbishop had been “placed on assisted ventilation to attempt recovery of his lung function” two weeks after undergoing “a delicate lung surgery.”
“Archbishop Sambi understood and loved our nation,” Archbishop Dolan said in a statement July 28. “He traveled throughout the country, often to attend the ordination of bishops, always eager to meet the faithful, and to share with them the affection that the Holy Father has for them and their country.”
“He was open to the media as a conveyor of truth and welcomed journalists as representatives of the American people,” the USCCB president said. “He enjoyed everything from a stroll in the park near his residence in Washington to the diplomatic functions he attended as part of his service as the representative of the Holy See to the United States.”
Archbishop Dolan recalled “the indispensable role” the nuncio had during Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the U.S. in 2008, saying he had “enabled our entire nation to see the wonderfully warm solicitude of the Holy Father for America.”
A veteran Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Sambi was named as papal nuncio to the U.S. by Pope Benedict XVI in December 2005. At the time of his appointment he was the Vatican’s representative to Israel and Palestine, where he helped arrange Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000.
After he arrived in the U.S. Feb. 24, 2006, he said in an interview with Catholic News Service in Washington that that he was impressed by the vitality of U.S. Catholicism, the level of weekly Mass attendance among U.S. Catholics and their generosity toward others.
In Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien said the impact of the late nuncio’s work in the U.S. “will be felt for many years to come.” “Both as a diplomat and a priest, Archbishop Sambi excelled through his gentle spirit and infectious goodness,” he said.
“A churchman who served us with extraordinary spiritual insights, boundless physical energy and a compassionate generosity that reached out in all generations, Archbishop Sambi has been a great model to so many of us of full-hearted love for Christ’s church and dedication to the Holy See and to the vicar of Christ,” Archbishop O’Brien said.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said everyone in his archdiocese felt “a particular bond” with Archbishop Sambi because of the planning that led up to the papal visit in 2008 as well as the events themselves. He added that he personally will miss his friendship.
“We all recognize his extraordinary work as the pope’s personal representative and the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, his sense of humor, his friendly and open manner, and his clear love for the church and our Holy Father.”
In a statement released in Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez noted all the postings Archbishop Sambi had in his 42 years of diplomatic service, and said “he had a special affection for his last posting, as papal nuncio to the United States.”
“In speaking to U.S. bishops last fall, he said, ‘Here the Lord has planted me, here I must flourish. This has become my home, this has become my people; to put all my energies at its service is my joy and my crown.'”
Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley said the archbishop represented the pope “with distinction and great skill” and was “an engaging and dedicated leader who had great love” for U.S. Catholics.
Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va., recalled Archbishop Sambi as a “joyful priest who had the ability to blend a sense of humor, deep spiritual insight and a great humility in a way that drew people to him. He clearly enjoyed the vibrant faith he experienced in the United States, as we enjoyed his.”
He said the archbishop seemed happiest when encouraging young people in their faith, especially each year during the Mass for Life or when he welcomed a group of diocesan school students to the nunciature.
Archbishop John J. Meyers of Newark, N.J., called the apostolic nuncio a “strong friend and supporter” U.S. church.
He said he worked with Archbishop Sambi for many years and “relied upon his counsel and friendship” as they not only shared the joys of ministry but sought ways to help the homeless and victims of natural disasters, sexual abuse and poverty.
In a July 28 blog entry, Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote that the nuncio “served the bishops by speaking the truth in love to us often,” and he noted Archbishop Sambi challenged the bishops to “be more open than perhaps we are and less iron-fisted.”
Among other messages of condolences was a statement from Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, who said the archbishop’s “untimely death” is “a loss for the Catholic Church and for Catholic-Jewish relations.”
Rabbi Rosen and Archbishop Sambi worked closely together on Israel-Vatican relations and the establishment of the bilateral commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See, an initiative of Pope John Paul II.
“Archbishop Sambi was a consummate diplomat even though he could often be unusually forthcoming for someone in his profession,” said Rabbi Rosen. “He was a genuine friend of the Jewish people and a devoted advocate of Jewish-Christian reconciliation and cooperation.”
Vice President Joe Biden said he “greatly appreciated Archbishop Sambi’s friendship and counsel” and “admired his distinguished diplomatic service” for the church in the United States, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, South Asia and Europe.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, recalled the archbishop’s “catching smile and warm personality,” and said “above all deep fidelity to the Holy See and his kindness to all” will be greatly missed.
Miguel Diaz, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said in a July 28 statement that the apostolic nuncio had “a profound understanding of the rich and diverse reality of the United States” and was a “superb diplomat whose skills left a lasting impact in places where he served.”
“His kindness, wisdom, and leadership will be sorely missed,” he added.
Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, said described Archbishop Sambi as someone who “loved the church in the United States and was loved in return.”
Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, said the nuncio was “a good friend and a great supporter of the charitable mission of the church.”
John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, described Archbishop Sambi as “a passionate advocate of Catholic education.”
“We will always remember his enthusiastic proclamation of the Word, his cheerfulness, and his openness to everyone who crossed his path,” Garvey said.
Msgr. Edward Arsenault, president and CEO of St. Luke Institute in Washington, said Archbishop Sambi’s “deep pastoral concern for those ministering in the church was evident when he visited” the institute.
“He treated every person he met, from psychologists to residents to the kitchen staff with respect, joy and prayerfulness. His devotion to the church and to his own priestly ministry was an inspiration to all who met him,” the priest said.
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life/Gospel of Life Ministries, praised the archbishop for his efforts on behalf of the pro-life cause, saying, “At certain critical moments of our growth, he provided direct assistance and guidance to protect and strengthen our ministry.”
Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light Television in Toronto, noted in a July 28 blog entry that Archbishop Sambi loved the U.S. church for its “dynamism, diversity and youthfulness. He had great respect for its outreach to the world.”
The priest said people didn’t call the archbishop “super-nuncio for nothing,” a moniker he said described how Archbishop Sambi “went above and beyond his diplomatic and ecclesiastical duties” and “showed remarkable courage, wisdom and compassion.”
“He told it like it was and was loved for his great humanity.”
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