Issue Date: April 14, 2006

We thought Rome would never notice

It’s a little thing, certainly, but it would border on impolite to let the remarks go unnoticed. So we say thank you to the new papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who recently said he was impressed by the vitality of U.S. Catholicism.
We thought Rome would never notice.

It is unusual for nuncios to make many public pronouncements and being diplomats, their comments are always measured and discreet.

But in an interview with Catholic News Service’s Jerry Filteau, Sambi let it be known that while “there are problems in the church of the United States, I also know also there is a lot of vitality -- I would like that this be more known.”
So would we. Every church has problems, and certainly someone familiar with the church in Europe knows that. However, not all of those with problems also have vitality and growing numbers.

Sambi said he was impressed by the number of adults who showed up at the start of Lent to prepare for baptism or to enter into full communion with the church at Easter.

He also was impressed with the level of Mass attendance and the generosity of U.S. Catholics. In some respects he sounded as if he had more enthusiasm than one might expect from some of our own bishops.

But then as a widely traveled diplomat, he’s had a good view of the church and its problems in other parts of the world, which might lead one to conclude that things aren’t so bad here, after all.

He should know that the vitality he is witnessing is in no small part due to an ecclesiology that has increasingly included strong and well-educated lay people in leadership positions. Developing that kind of leadership did not occur quickly or without great effort, and it needs to be protected from some who would like to turn back the clock to a time of a priest-rich church when clericalism was the order of the day.

Sambi was appropriately diplomatic in turning away a question about the Iraq war with a broad statement that he joins Americans who “pray and hope that this conflicted situation will soon end and that a democratic and free society will emerge.”
When asked about the current debate over immigration, he again begged off, saying it was not his role to comment on a nation’s “internal” issues. He added, however, “I am happy the Catholic bishops are really outspoken on this matter.”

And finally, on “hot button” issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, he said, “I don’t like to speak inside the Catholic church about liberal or conservative, but about people faithful to Jesus Christ and to his church. The church has been established by Our Lord to continue the mystery of the salvation of human beings. It is not your invention, it is not my invention. … The question of the church is not only a question of culture, it is a question of the Gospel.”

We hope he makes more known in some circles the good things he has seen in the U.S. church.

National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 2006