New Vatican Nuncio to U.S. known for affable manner, sense of humor

JERUSALEM (CNS) — The new Vatican Nuncio to the United States is known for his warm and affable manner, sense of humor and easy laugh in both Palestinian and Israeli circles.

Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who has served in Jerusalem since 1998 and will take up his new post in February, is an excellent choice for the nuncio in Washington, given his record of being open and ready to listen to people, said Franciscan Father Peter Vasko, president of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land.

“The expertise he has shown here with the Palestinians and the Israelis will go a long way toward dealing with the American hierarchy and American Catholics,” Father Vasko said.

In mid-January, Archbishop Sambi was honored at a series of receptions in Jerusalem, where he served as papal nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and papal delegate to the Palestinian territories.

Israeli Minister of Tourism Avraham Hirchson called Archbishop Sambi a “friend of the state of Israel and the people of Israel.”

“I think you did for peace in the Middle East more than many people we see every day in the newspaper. For the first time you built a relationship between us and the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism,” Hirchson told the archbishop, adding that Israel appreciated his efforts to return pilgrims to the Holy Land after the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000.

“If 300,000 tourists passed our borders this year and last year there were only 51,000, it is because of your wonderful work. We are losing a good friend today … may God bless you wherever you go,” he said.

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a former chief rabbi of Israel, referred to the nuncio’s ability to follow his own faith while peacefully respecting the faiths of others.

“Archbishop Sambi showed us that with a little bit of flexibility and a lot of smiles on his face we can accomplish Micah’s prophecy” of eliminating violence among nations, said Rabbi Lau.

The archbishop “helped to build a bridge and to show that religious leaders can be not a gap but a bridge to friendship, understanding and brotherhood,” Rabbi Lau said.

For a Jan. 19 farewell dinner and reception at the nunciature, Archbishop Sambi — unlike many diplomats who host two separate celebrations for Israelis and Palestinians — invited both. He also provided kosher food for his religiously observant Jewish friends.

“Archbishop Sambi succeeded in having good relations with both (Palestinians and Israelis), both with the local people and with the authorities,” Jerusalem Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah said at the reception.

Archbishop Sambi said that no one who has ever been to Jerusalem can easily forget the city.

“I feel that I will not be leaving Jerusalem because Jerusalem is inside me,” the nuncio told Catholic News Service at the start of one reception. “I am very grateful for this ceremony, and it makes it more difficult to leave Jerusalem.”

Archbishop Sambi said the one thing he would like to have seen during his tenure in Jerusalem was the development of a larger and more aggressive interreligious dialogue, to show “that the holy city of Jerusalem (unites) human beings, not divides them.”

By Judith Sudilovsky Catholic News Service
2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops