Alan McElwain, our correspondent in Australia, interviews Archbishop Luigi Barbarito
ALAN McELWAIN: What was your immediate reaction on being informed Pope John Paul had chosen you for Great Britian?
Archbishop Barbarito: My first reaction was of surprise and awe: of surprise because I had not expected to be chosen, given my involvement in the preparation of the Pope's visit to Australia next November; and of awe at the importance and demands of the new post. McElwain: What do you foresee as your first priority in Britain?
Barbarito: At this stage I cannot particularise because 1 do not have any personal knowledge and experience of the Church there. My first duty will be to listen, to learn and come to know. However, as representative of the Holy Father to the Churches of England, Wales and Scotland, it will be my task to foster their communion of faith, unity and love, with the Church of Rome.
In this regard I consider myself the humble servant of the Bishops with the people of God entrusted to their care. Besides that I have also the honour to represent His Holiness Pope John Paul H to the Court of St James. In this capacity, I'll do my best to further the good relations happily existing between the Holy See and the Government of Her Majesty the Queen.
McElwain: In Australia, you have earned a reputation for travelling throughout the continent to meet people, see things generally for yourself. Presumably you will be eager to do the same in Britain?
Barbarito: It is true that I travelled far and wide to visit the dioceses on the invitation of the bishops, to meet the priests, religious and laypeopie, trying to widen the avenues of trust and dialogue with all elements of the people of God, particularly with the Bishops. It appears to me that they have appreciated this approach which is pastoral and Church motivated. I hope to do the same in Britain with the understanding of the local Bishops.
McElwain: As Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, you will have an important part in welcoming the Queen when she visits Canberra just before you leave for London in March. A happy prelude, can we say, to your diplomatic work in Britain? Barbarito: As Dean of the Diplomatic Corps it is a great honour for me to be one of the greeting party when Her Majesty lands in Canberra. I have delayed my departure so as not to miss such a privileged occasion. I consider this opportunity a good prelude to my diplomatic mission in London.
As Dean of the Diplomatic Corps I also had the honour of welcoming Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales when they visited Australia last November. McElwain: You have taken a keen, special interest in the lay apostolate. What do you see as the special needs or opportunities in this field? Barbarito: We are all aware of the importance the Church attaches to the Lay Apostolate today. In this regard great progress has been made over the past twenty years, but in my opinion much more remains to be done.
As the recent Extraordinary Synod pointed out, we have not yet fully grasped the mysterious and supernatural character of the Church. The call to holiness, as pointed out by Chapter V of Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II Constitution on the Church, remains the fundamental objective of all the members of the Church.
Without a sound lay spirituality I cannot foresee a truly effective engagement of the laity in the work of evangelising a secularised society. I believe that in the past there was more emphasis on social and political engagement than on the spiritual formation of adult lay people. The former are necessary, but unless they are rooted in a deep, personal committed relationship to Christ our Saviour and Lord through biblical meditation, prayer and sacramental life, they could easily degenerate into mere social activism or demagogy. I hope that the next Synod of the Bishops on the Role of the Laity in the Church will provide some guidelines for a truly lay spirituality suited to our times.
McElwain: You are known to have a flair for making instant (and lasting) friendships. Do you think the Church should develop
closer contact, closer friendship, with Catholics and the community at large?
Barbarito: I do not know to what extent I would be capable, as you say, of making instant friendships. What I try to do is to make known to every person with whom I enter a' relationship, that I respect him or her, that I'm ready to listen, to appreciate their points of view even if not always able to agree.
I believe in the importance of sincere dialogue as a means to understanding and tolerance. When I speak of dialogue I have in mind not only dialogue inside the church, but also beyond it with the world at large, with the other Christian denominations and world religions.
In Australia I have Jearned to appreciate the riches of the Anglican Communion. I am looking forward to deepening my knowledge of it at its sources, and to entertaining friendly relations with the Anglican Hierarchy and Clergy. Together we can witness more convincingly the saving and liberating power of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
McElwain: You have taken a great interest in Australia's Aboriginal People. You are, I think, especially concerned for minorities everywhere. And you have said that Catholic social action is clearly a very important part of the Church's mission. Would you expand on this a little?
Barbarito: I have been concerned with social justice and working class problems from the early years of my priesthood, when in my home diocese of Avellino I was engaged in organising and promoting the Christian Workers Associations in postwar Italy (ACLI), and the Catholic Women's Centre for the social and political participation of women.
Then, as Papal Representative in some of the poorest countries of Africa and Latin America I had direct knowledge and experience of misery and oppression.
From what I have seen and experienced I formed the conviction that the credibility of the Church in our times depends very much upon her fidelity to the Gospel message of justice and love for the poor. I have my reservations about those who proclaim in learned publications and fine speeches their love for the poor but are unable to say "Good Morning" to their immediate neighbour and distance the people they live by.
There are many kinds of poor among us: not only the destitute, the hungry, the tortured and oppressed, but also among the rich and powerful of the affluent societies who have to hide under the cover of a brilliant social life the loneliness and despair of a starving inner self.
The mission of the Church is to embrace all in the compassionate love of God our Father, as revealed to us in his Son, Jesus Christ.
McElwain: A recent warm tribute to you by the Australian Catholic Bishops reflected their close, personal and happy association with you in all your eight years as ProNuncio. This must have been extemely satisfying to you?
Barbarito: It is true that the Australian Bishops, individually and through the President of their Conference, have kindly given me a touching tribute of esteem and friendship. I wonder to what extent I deserved it. But I can say in all earnest that I tried to respect their authority and responsibility in governing their flock.
I offered my service, as far as possible, in collaboration with them and in obedience to the directives of the Holy See. It was an endeavour in the spirit of collegiality and subsidiarity as recommended by Vatican II.
McElwain: What are the main impressions about Australia you will take away with you?
Barbarito: In leaving Australia, where in two stages I spent fourteen years of my life, I'll take with me the happy memories of a friendly and generous people, of a vigorous and promising Church, of a young nation which has become the land of opportunity and hope for millions of migrants and refugees from all continents.
McElwain: Have you a message for the people in Britain, clerical and lay, Catholic and non-Catholic, we can send ahead of you? Barbarito: Coming to Britain I look forward to offering in all humility my service to the Catholic Community in this land so rich in tradition and freedom.
I hope to be, with God's help, the faithful interpreter of the solicitude of the Holy Father for the spiritual and material welfare of the Church and of the great British people.
I wish to extend to Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers, my respectful greetings in the hope that we may all work together, independently of our religious or political affiliations, to make God's world a better place to live in, in His peace, justice and freedom.