BY ED WEST
ARCHBISHOP Vincent Nichols of Westminster has paid tribute to the departing Apostolic Nuncio to Britain, praising his “kindness and humanity”.
At a Mass of thanksgiving for Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, celebrated in Westminster Cathedral last week, the archbishop in his homily referred to the nuncio’s involvement with the papal visit in September 2010.
He said: “The visit of the Holy Father lasted four days and we have also been blessed by almost six years of ministry of the representative of Apostle Peter’s successor and he too has shared in the apostolic ministry. The nuncio has said to us that he was told that his task was to make present the pastoral heart of the Holy Father. We have seen for ourselves the pastoral heart of Pope Benedict and we have seen how well it is reflected and expressed in the ministry of our nuncio. It is a heart of kindness, of sensibility, of humanity, of well-chosen words and of joy. Pope Benedict won our hearts Your Excellency, you have won our hearts too.” Archbishop Sainz Muñoz retired, on health grounds, as Apostolic Nuncio in Great Britain last Saturday. He announced his retirement at a Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh last month, held to offer thanks for the successful papal visit.
The nuncio has been seriously ill since May when he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. He has since undergone surgery and radiotherapy and is still receiving chemotherapy.
A veteran of the Holy See’s diplomatic service, 73-yearold Archbishop Muñoz had served John Paul II in Scandinavia and Latin America, accompanying the pontiff on his 1979 trip to Poland, before becoming nuncio to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1992, where he made the Nunciature a haven for refugees fleeing the Rwandan genocide. Fluent in four languages, he was made the Vatican’s representative to the European Union in 1999 before being appointed to Britain five years later. He had two years left until retirement.
Although his time in the nunciature in Wimbledon has been marked by difficulties within the Church, and differences of opinion between the Vatican and the bishops, he is leaving the Church stronger than it has been for many years following the successful papal visit.
Labour peer Lord Brennan, a Catholic, paid tribute to Archbishop Muñoz by saying: “He leaves us in the knowl edge that we Catholics, and many more in the diplomatic corps and many others of our fellow citizens, lament his going – a pastor who has sustained us, a devoted priest, and a good man.” The nuncio bade farewell to the bishops in person after their plenary meeting last month. He said: “Through these two events you have learned and received more than I could offer over two or three years. The ad limina was very successful as was evident by the way you were received by the dicasteries and the Holy Father.” In his homily last week Archbishop Nichols paid tribute to Archbishop Sainz Muñoz and offered prayers for his recovery, and said they bid him farewell with “great gratitude to our Lord for the fruitful ministry of the Archbishop and with heartfelt prayers for his full recovery from illness and for many years of continued service of the Lord, although in different circumstances.
“I know I speak for all the bishops of England and Wales, for the whole Catholic community, when I thank Archbishop Sainz Muñoz for all that he has done among us. I know, too, that the entire Diplomatic Community in this country also pays great tribute to him and its members have said quite clearly that they will miss his presence.
“We bishops have grown to see him as a brother and we will certainly miss him very much. At the heart of the ministry he has fulfilled is his task of representing here among us the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The nuncio has done so with great humanity, much joy and with a truly fraternal spirit. We bishops have grown to see him as a brother and we will certainly miss him very much indeed. “We have been much blessed by the recent visit of Pope Benedict, the holder of the office of the rock of the Church. We have seen and heard his eloquent testimony to the Gospel and his convincing encouragement to us all about the part we are to play in our society and the manner in which we, in our turn, are to proclaim the Gospel in daily life.
“Your Excellency, you have won our hearts too. We thank you. We shall miss you. And we promise to pray for you, always. Amen.”
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