Don Luigi, Mille Grazie e Arrivederci!
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
September 22, 2009
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB,
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, Canada
This morning Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Luigi Ventura, current Nuncio to Canada, the Apostolic Nuncio to France. Archbishop Ventura has served as Apostolic Nuncio to Canada since September, 2001.
Since the most ancient of times, Popes have sent representatives who were known as Legates, to general and local councils of the Church. These Legates were chosen from among the members of the Roman Clergy or the Bishops of Italy, which depended directly from the Holy See. From the Eleventh century, these legations, because of their importance, were entrusted to Cardinals who were called Legates. The name ‘Nuncio’ (from the Latin “nuntius” meaning messenger or message), however, was given to prelates, generally Bishops, to whom were entrusted negotiations of a particular character.
Apostolic Nuncios are personal representatives of the Holy Father in each country. The complex and often unknown roles of Nuncios operate simultaneously on many levels, yet most often “behind the scenes”, with great discretion and humility.
First and foremost the Nuncio in a given country works closely with the local churches (dioceses) and the Conference of Bishops to foster communication between the Church in that country with the Holy Father and the many Vatican departments. Nuncios are living reminders of the universality of the Church.
Second, Nuncios serve as official representatives of the Holy See to the government of the country to which they are assigned. Third, Nuncios serve as the official links between the country in which they find themselves and the Holy See. Since their mission allows them to have a view of the whole, they are essential in determining the future directions of the Church in a given country.
Nuncios come and nuncios go. Most people never really get to know “a nuncio!” But that wasn’t the case with Archbishop Luigi Ventura, Apostolic Nuncio to Canada from 2001 to 2009. Arriving literally on the eve of September 11, 2001, he was hailed even before his coming to Canada as “the nuncio of the GMG- World Youth Day 2002.” And that he was!
Luigi Ventura was not just another Papal diplomat sent to us. It didn’t take him long to size up the Canadian Church and provide for its pastoral needs. One of the most important duties of a nuncio is to assist the Holy Father with the appointment of Bishops in a particular country. Archbishop Ventura did that job in a remarkable and admirable way, leaving his “mark” on the Church in this country for years to come. He traveled this country from sea to sea to sea, tirelessly bringing the good news of Jesus and the message of the Church from the “home office” on the Tiber to the most remote places of Canada. He reminded us in season and out of season of the bigger picture: the universality of the Church.
Crisscrossing our vast Canadian territory, he made distant friends and brought strangers close, making room in our land for the peace of Christ. He was a real “Pontifex”, a builder of bridges in a world and a country that too often erects solitudes, walls and divisions. He has been an extraordinary, gentle shepherd with a universal heart who conquered our vast country with his infectious smile, genuine goodness, pastoral wisdom, and common sense.
And now some words addressed to you, Archbishop Luigi.
I am sure that you never imagined the possibility of life in the diplomatic service when you were a young priest in Brescia, in northern Italy. Even back then you were a dynamic pastor and you loved working with young people, fostering vocations, and assisting with seminary formation. until that phone call came that would change your life. Your bishop was sending you to the Vatican Diplomatic Academy in Rome.
During your “hidden” years at the Vatican Secretary of State, prior to your Episcopal ordination on April 29, 1995, you had the privilege of working closely with the late, great Cardinal Agostino Casaroli and Pope John Paul II, the architects who brought down the Iron Curtain in those tumultuous years of the late eighties and early nineties. You must have seen much behind the scenes and heard echo in your heart many times the powerful words of Pope John Paul II that have marked your priestly and Episcopal ministry: “Be not afraid! Open the doors, better still, throw open the doors to Christ! To his powerful salvation open the borders of States, of economic and political systems. Do not be afraid!”
“Don” Luigi, as they still call you in the parishes where you help out in Italy during your vacations, with each new assignment, your geographical horizons broadened and your heart expanded to literally welcome the world into your life. You first learned and then taught us over the past eight years, that the great power of papal diplomacy is the hand of solidarity it extends as a sign of fraternity and love for and with everyone.
On many occasions you received the telephone call to move: from the safe confines of the Vatican Diplomatic Academy and the Vatican Secretariat of State to Brazil, Bolivia, the United Kingdom, Africa, Chile, and then to Canada for the past eight blessed years in this cold, wintry land! How many times must you have uttered, quietly and aloud: “Mamma mia, what distances? How much snow? Can it really be this cold? Is there springtime in this country? When will it come?”
You encouraged and strengthened your brother bishops in their difficult but important ministries of shepherding their flocks and remaining united to Christ and the successor of Peter in Rome. To the many hard working priests of this country, you were a brother priest, listening, chiding, challenging, encouraging, and thanking them for their dedication. To the women religious of Canada you were a brother. And to the tens of thousands of young people who had the privilege of meeting you, and enjoying your warm, Italian hospitality in the Ottawa Nunciature that you called “Peter’s House”, you lived up to your name of “Nuncio of World Youth Days.” Truly you live the words of Pope Benedict XVI, spoken at his installation in Rome in 2005: “The Church is alive and the Church is young.”
Your key role in World Youth Day – the blessed event of July 2002 in Toronto – its preparation and aftermath – will not be forgotten, for years to come. Your constant encouragement of and participation in the birth and growth of Salt and Light Television in Canada were indispensable.
Now once again, you have received the call to pack your bags and move on to Paris where Pope Benedict has appointed you Apostolic Nuncio to France, the eldest daughter of the Church. While we are very sad to see this Good Shepherd leave Canada, you leave behind many wonderful relationships and friendships born here over the past eight years.
We thank God for the gift of Luigi Ventura that we received in 2001, and enjoyed so much for the past eight years. We know that God will continue to provide for us with another Nuncio. But Luigi Ventura was an experience, “sui generis”, one of a kind.
Those of us who got to know him, work closely with him and love him now know that despite the deep, cold Canadian winters, both outdoors and inside the Church, he was a herald of the springtime for which we longed and in which we truly delighted these past eight years.
In a brilliant address he delivered in 2004 at Windsor’s Assumption University, Archbishop Ventura concluded his talk with these words:
“I wish to reassure all of you that the mission of an Apostolic Nuncio, even though it is in the service of the faith, is not part of the defined truth of the faith. Consequently, one is free to make whatever judgment one likes about the office of Apostolic Nuncio without risking the salvation of one’s soul! I would be happy, however, if my contribution here today would go at least a small way towards encouraging you in your love for the Church and for the Holy Father.”
Today we say with much certainty: his contribution has gone a long way in encouraging many of us to love Christ, the Church and the Holy Father.
Thank you, “Don Luigi” for being a Good Shepherd in Canada for the past eight years.
Thank you for being a servant of Christ, a servant of the faithful, and servant of all.
Another great man of Brescia, Pope Paul VI, Papa Montini once said: “Diplomacy is the art of making peace.” Those words describe you very well.
Don’t forget us! We certainly will not forget you. Mille grazie! Arrivederci! Bon voyage! Ad multos annos in your joyful service of the Lord and the Church!