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The bridge-maker

Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu (centre), the main celebrant at the July 15 closing Mass at Jesus Explosion XVI. Photo: Elmo Griffith

It’s almost a year since Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu was appointed as the pope’s representative for the Antilles Episcopal Conference. Catholic News Writer/Copy Editor Simone Delochan had a one-on-one interview with His Grace earlier this year to find out more about this learned man of the cloth.

Many would already know that an apostolic nuncio is the pope’s representative but beyond that, there is little knowledge on what is actually executed by a nuncio.Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu describes it succinctly as being a bridge-maker, the essential role of the pope himself. The word ‘pontiff’ is derived from two Latin words, pons and facere which mean ‘bridge-maker’.

“First and foremost,” said His Grace, “the pope is the bridge-maker. Vertically, he is the successor of Peter, who is the bridge with Jesus. He has vertical authority. He is also a horizontal bridge-maker between all the bishops. He is the first among bishops; he is the bridge between all the bishops.” As the pope cannot be physically present to all his people, the nuncio enacts this role.

In the Apostolic Letter, Motu Proprio—Sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum (The Care of All Churches 1969), Blessed Paul VI stated: “The activity of the Pontifical Representative brings before all a precious service to the bishops, priests, religious and all the Catholics of the place…. which is to the benefit of all.”

The representative of the pope is given a diplomatic function in addition to his ecclesial function. Archbishop Fortunatus commented if, for example, there is a break, a communication gap or a collaboration gap between the local Church and government, the nuncio usually steps in because he has diplomatic protection. “He uses his diplomatic status to gain access to the government, and tries all he can within his power to repair the relationships between the bishops and the local Church, and the government.”

This he did when posted in Nicaragua (2012–—2017), his first assignment as Apostolic Nuncio, where there were—and still exist—tensions between the bishops and the government. He was able to bring the country’s Presidency and bishops together around a dining and dialogue table, after various years of reciprocal diffidence.

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua is at the forefront in support of the movement to oust the increasingly authoritarian government led by Daniel Ortega. Ortega has been serving as president since 2007, and before that from 1979—when the Sandinistas swept away the Somoza government in a coup—to the 1990s when he lost the presidential election. He was re-elected in 2007.

In 2016, the bishops of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference (Conferencia Episcopal de Nicaragua) called on Ortega “to respect representative democracy and ideological pluralism in the electoral process” (La Prensa) in the elections. Daniel Ortega won giving him his third consecutive term, and his wife, her first as Vice-President in the elections.

The 73-year-old leader, in July of this year, has accused the Catholic bishops of working against him to effect a coup d’etat, and using churches to stockpile weapons.

Of his situation in Nicaragua, His Grace speaks obliquely, “I was in Nicaragua, and the situation is more complex than what is often reported in the media. It is more like this: when you allow the wound to grow and fester, it becomes more difficult to cure it, and some people will tell you it is incurable and you will need an amputation…This happens in diplomatic relations. If you do not intervene in time, the wound festers…”

In all situations of heightened tensions, he said, bishops must listen to and maintain the teaching of the pope, the Church, and the Bible, even if the government is going against it.  This he said, assures the priest, the nuncio, or the bishop of a “calm conscience”.

PART TWO: The diplomat