VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Bernardito Cleopas Auza, the new head of the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, served on the front lines in response to Haiti’s disastrous 2010 earthquake.
Now he will have to tackle key international issues like restricting the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Archbishop Auza, 55, hails from the Philippines and is a former nuncio to Haiti. He is the first Filipino to lead the observer mission at the U.N. and the fourth Filipino to serve as nuncio.
On July 2, Archbishop Auza was named to replace Archbishop Francis Chullikat, an Indian-born prelate who had led the Holy See’s main U.N. presence since 2010.
The new permanent observer is set to arrive in New York at the end of August.
The Holy See’s mission at the United Nations is of key importance for the Holy See’s diplomatic work. It aims to assist the U.N. in realizing “peace, justice, human dignity and humanitarian cooperation and assistance,” the mission’s website says.
The mission aims to communicate the Catholic Church’s centuries of experience to humanity.
Archbishop Auza will likely bring his commitment for the poor to the core of the mission.
He was born in the city of Talibon on the central Philippines island province of Bohol and is the eighth of 12 children. Archbishop Auza received a licentiate in philosophy in 1981 and another licentiate in theology in 1986. He received a master’s degree in education in 1986. He advanced his studies in Rome, where he received a licentiate in canon law and earned a doctorate in sacred theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. He also studied at the Vatican diplomatic school, the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.
Thereafter, he served as secretary of the apostolic nunciature in Madagascar and Mauritius from 1990-1993 and in Bulgaria from 1993-1996. He was appointed counselor in the nunciature of Albania in 1997, after which he served as charge d’affaires in London. He then served as counselor of the Second Section of the Vatican Secretariat of State from 1999 to 2006 and worked for the Holy See’s mission to the U.N. in New York from 2006 to 2008.
In 2008, he was appointed papal nuncio to Haiti. He was in Haiti in 2010, when a massive earthquake hit the western part of the country. At least 316,000 people died in the quake, and many buildings were destroyed, leaving hundreds of thousands without homes.
Among the dead was Haiti’s senior Churchman, Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince.
Archbishop Auza helped lead the Catholic Church’s response. He worked on the front lines of the disaster to rebuild the country and to help its people. He especially helped collect relief money from the Vatican and other sources to direct to Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries.
Now, the archbishop is going to take over one of the most influential posts of Vatican diplomacy. The first issue he will handle will likely be nuclear weapons, the target of the Nonproliferation Treaty to be discussed in 2015.
The archbishop’s predecessor at the U.N., in his last intervention at the Nonproliferation Treaty Preparation Conference April 30, stressed the need to achieve a nonproliferation treaty which would not lead to an indiscriminate nuclear ban that would preclude “civilian” uses.
“It would be better to have the nuclear-weapon states working with the non-nuclear states to prepare a common path to develop a legally binding instrument banning the possession of nuclear weapons,” said Archbishop Chullikat.
Archbishop Auza will continue the Catholic Church’s leading role in the debate. As one of the founders of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Holy See has always backed the right use of nuclear energy for civilian reasons. At the same time, the Holy See has always worked for a treaty that would lead to a ban on the possession of nuclear weapons.
Several times the Holy See has been asked to raise its status in the United Nations to that of a member state. However, it has preferred to keep its permanent observer status so as to be able to exercise its moral authority without being obliged to vote on war resolutions or resolutions against the Church’s teaching.
There is a separate Holy See permanent observer mission to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva.