The Vaticanís man in Canada


Outgoing nuncio Luigi Ventura has revitalized the Catholic Church in Canada.

Archbishop Luigi Ventura

This week, the diplomatic corps is bidding farewell to Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the apostolic nuncio to Canada for the past eight years and the most influential Catholic in Canada this young century.

The apostolic nuncio is generally thought of as ambassador of one state to another, but that is not quite right. The Vatican City State does not have diplomatic relations with any country. Diplomatic relations are with the Holy See.

What's the difference? The Holy See is the legal expression of the pope's role as universal pastor of the Church. States maintain diplomatic relations with the supreme authority of the Catholic Church, which is recognized as a sovereign power in international law.

In the life of the Church, the Vatican City State is an utter novelty, only 80 years old, and it exists really for one purpose, which is to ensure that the sovereignty of the Holy See is respected; the universal pastor is not a subject of any civil power. It is the recognition in international law that the state does not have competence to govern the Church.

Canada is one of 177 countries that maintain diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and the nuncio is the equivalent of the ambassador. But nuncios are not concerned with trade agreements or consular affairs; their task is to speak for the liberty of the Church and the dignity of the human person, human rights and the common good. That's their job vis-àvis the state, but in fact their main work is within the Church.

The nuncio is the principal link between the Catholic bishops in a particular country and the Holy See, providing communication and reports in both directions. Most important of all, the nuncio prepares the dossiers for the nomination of bishops. He recommends candidates to Rome for the pope's decision, but given the vast number of dioceses around the world, Rome relies to a very great degree on the advice of the nuncios.

Archbishop Ventura, a rising star in the diplomatic corps, was sent to Canada in 2001 from his previous assignment in Chile. In the Catholic world, Canada would not be as prestigious as Chile, a Catholic country where the nuncio is also accorded the honour of being dean of the diplomatic corps.

So why did Canada get Ventura, plucked out of Chile after just two years and sent to the frozen north?

He was sent to Canada after concern emerged in Rome in the late 1990s that the Church in Canada was adrift, losing her confidence and evangelical zeal. The most senior cardinals in Rome convened to figure out what to do about Canada. The remedy was in part the papal visit for World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. Ventura was sent as well, to ensure that the momentum of that papal visit was not dissipated.

Since his arrival in 2001, Ventura has recommended the appointments of new archbishops in Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Quebec City, Moncton, Halifax and St. John's. He has been the architect of the renewal of the Canadian episcopate. The new spirit of Catholic confidence and evangelization evident across the country is due in large part to that renewal. Indeed, so effective has Ventura been in Canada that he departs Ottawa for Paris, one of the most senior diplomatic posts in the Church, and normally given to a man on his way to being created a cardinal.

He is an Italian member of the oldest diplomatic corps in the world, but he has shown himself better than most at preaching the Gospel to 21st century Canada.

But Archbishop Ventura did not make a deep impression on the Church in Canada because he was an effective ecclesiastical architect. Rather, it was because he welcomed to his residence all sorts of creative and energetic people, independent of rank or experience, so that he could know what was going on, what was working and what was not. He travelled the country and lent his support to those who were doing the work of the new evangelization.

I first met him hearing confessions like a parish priest at a university student conference; later, he would happily have lunch with my own students at Queen's. More than that, he was kind enough to encourage me in my own work when others could not quite figure out a priest writing a news-paper column. (One bishop used to ask me about my "letters to the editor.")

He is an Italian member of the oldest diplomatic corps in the world, but he has shown himself better than most at preaching the Gospel to 21st century Canada.



Father Raymond J. de Souza, "The Vatican's man in Canada." National Post, (Canada) October 29, 2009.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

photo credit: Salt & Light TV


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2009 National Post

Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter



Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.