May 23, 2008

Archbishop Sambi’s reflections and memories of his ministry as a papal diplomat

(Transcript of an interview conducted by Sean Gallagher; read more of the interview here)

Q: You would have been in Israel when he made his pilgrimage there in 2000.

A: I organized the pilgrimage.

In some respects, you could almost say that that pilgrimage was one of the most significant of his papacy.  And in that pilgrimage, it was his visit to the Western Wall that was one of the most significant moments.  What does that moment, of him visiting the Western Wall have in your heart and in your memory?  Or maybe there was another moment that was more important to you.

You should remember what the plan of the pope was.  On the occasion of the jubilee year 2000, he wanted to walk in the footsteps of Abraham, in the footsteps of Moses, in the footsteps of Jesus, and in the footsteps of Paul.

He could not walk in the footsteps of Abraham because Saddam Hussein did not allow him to go to Hur if he wouldn’t ask the international society to take away the prohibition to fly over Iraq.

But he walked in the footsteps of Moses on Mount Sinai and also on Mount Nebo.  When he went to the Temple, to the Western Wall, you must know that this part of the wall is the only thing that remains which was connected to the Temple destroyed by the Emperor Titus in the year 70.

You must know that around the Temple, the Jewish conscience, the Jewish identity has been formed.  So in going to pay a visit to the Western Wall, the pope wanted to pay a visit to the largest part of the history of salvation that is common between the Jewish people and us.

I think of him on Mount Nebo, looking out.  It was a few years later that he died.  Moses went there to see the Holy Land that he would not get to.  Pope John Paul was looking forward that he would get to, by the grace of God.

You know, when we see a biblical event, we can see something far from us.  In reality, in the life of each of us, there is a desert.  In the life of each of us, there is a Mount Nebo.  In the life of each of us, there is a fertile valley of the Holy Land.

Q: Being a Vatican diplomat in various important countries and international hot spots might not strike the average believer, at least on the surface, as having very many pastoral aspects to it.  But you’re an archbishop.  You’re a shepherd, a successor to the apostles. How do you see your ministry within this pastoral context?

A: I am, first of all, a priest.  I am, first of all, a bishop.  I am, first of all, an apostle of Jesus Christ.  And it is on that basis that I enter into the dangerous, but important, centers of power.

You can enter the diplomatic service with the idea of an elegant life or an easy life.  You can with another spirit, a spirit of service, service to the truth--which is one of the fundamental ideas of Benedict XVI—of service to peace, or service to solidarity, international solidarity, solidarity with the poorest, with a spirit of service to the idea that, as a human being, my dignity is not full [while] there is a human being without dignity.

Q: Serving the interests of the Church in general and the Holy See in particular in various countries is, objectively speaking, a daunting task.  Do you ever catch yourself periodically and say, ‘My goodness, how am I to do this?’

A: In the world that I know, there are, present at the same time, the temptation to power, the temptation of oppression and repression, the temptation of submitting.  The Church has not an army.  The Church is not an economic power.  The Church has only one thing: its capacity of convincing and its confidence that God is guiding the history of each human being, including mine, and the history of the world.

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