New U.S. Nuncio Gets Warm Send-Off From Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — Holy Land Christians and non-Christians have spent the past month bidding a fond farewell to Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the outgoing apostolic nuncio in Israel and the apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine.

Archbishop Sambi, who has served in his Holy Land posts for the past seven years, is moving to Washington, D.C., where he will succeed retiring Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo as apostolic nuncio to the United States. On Jan. 5, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Latin Parish of Jerusalem held a moving tribute to Archbishop Sambi at Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem, a cultural institute of the Holy See administered by the Legionaries of Christ.

The archbishop’s tenure in the Holy Land coincided with several historic ups and downs, a fact alluded to by Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, custos of the Holy Land.

“You have lived with us through beautiful and intense years,” Father Pizzaballa told Archbishop Sambi before a gathering of dignitaries, clergy and local Christians. “I am thinking of the Jubilee and the visit of Pope John Paul II [in 2000]. At the same time these were difficult years, the years of the second intifada (Palestinian uprising).”

Holy Land Christians suffered greatly during the intifada, when warring Palestinians and Israelis fought literally on their doorstep in Bethlehem and elsewhere. As Palestinians, they were — and remain — subject to the severe restrictions placed on all Palestinians by the Israeli security forces.

The custos said that Archbishop Sambi has been “a spokesman” for both the Palestinian people and embattled local Christians, whose livelihoods have been threatened by the violence and lack of tourists.

“Together with us you have trembled and hoped for a peace which seemed impossible,” Father Pizzaballa said. “You have dared to show hope in times of desperation.”

Father Pizzaballa singled out Archbishop Sambi’s efforts to forge ties among Christians, Muslims and Jews, and especially for seeking “peace between diverse Christian communities who live here side by side,” sometimes in disharmony. Said Father Pizzaballa, “Thank you for always having tried to gather us together, for leveling out difficulties, for building trust, for fostering a sense of brotherhood, for having a particular love for friendship, and for making us all journey along the toilsome and joyful road of fraternal communion.”

Peacemaker

During another farewell ceremony, this time held by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism on Jan. 18, Israelis lauded Archbishop Sambi for his untiring efforts to encourage Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy Land, and for his work for peaceful coexistence among faiths.

Tourism Minister Avraham Hirschson said that Archbishop Sambi “did more for peace in the Middle East than people we see every day in the newspaper. You are a good friend of Israel and the people of Israel. We feel as if we are gaining a new ambassador in Washington. May God bless you wherever you go.”

Israel Meir Lau, Israel’s former chief rabbi, noted that he and Archbishop Sambi “overcame all kinds of obstacles together,” during the many years they collaborated on projects to break down barriers between Christians and Jews. “I consider you my very good friend,” Lau said.

Archbishop Sambi, who was visibly moved by the tributes, told those gathered that “it is not so easy to go away from Jerusalem,” and quipped, “there is a great risk that I won’t. Jerusalem gives you much more than what you give Jerusalem.”

Referring to the intifada years, when tourists of all faiths shunned the Holy Land out of fear for their safety, Archbishop Sambi said, “I did what I could to convince pilgrims to come back. For Christians, he said, a pilgrimage “is to come back to the birthplace and the source of their identity. It is also to support the small but precious Christian communities in the Holy Land.”

By making a pilgrimage and “making friendships with Israelis and Palestinians,” visiting Christians “send a message by looking at the other in a more brotherly way,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Sambi assured the Israelis that “in my heart, in my spirit, there was always an intention of peace,” even when the Vatican and Israel did not see eye-to-eye on certain matters.

The Vatican diplomat urged Christians, Jews and Muslims to continue to seek the things that unite rather than divide them. “Jerusalem is the spiritual capital of humanity,” he said. “We must build respect between the three communities. We have the love of the same God.”

In an interview with the Register following his address, Archbishop Sambi called on all religious leaders “to give a better example to humanity.”

He said, “To be near to God means being nearer to our brothers and sisters.”

Michele Chabin
writes from Jerusalem.

Representing the Holy Spirit that descended “like a dove” and hovered over Jesus when he was baptized.

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