Tuesday, September 22, 2009

For Paris, Pope Calls In the "Ace"

It wasn't even 7 o'clock before the grief began pouring in from Points North, with one message summing it best: "We've lost the greatest nuncio this country has ever seen."

At the same time, though, another thing's just as clear: B16 wants to give the French hierarchy an extreme makeover.

Word's been on the street since early summer, but today it became official as the Pope appointed Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the Holy See's man in Canada since 2001, to represent him in the church's "eldest daughter" as apostolic nuncio to France.

With the move, the 64 year-old Italian now holds one of Vatican diplomacy's three most prestigious postings -- a job whose prior occupants have invariably been placed in line for the cardinal's red hat.

Beloved across the vast Northern turf for his relaxed, jovial style, the prelate described as "an experience" and known by everyone from clerics to cameramen simply as "Luigi" has won wide praise both for a sense of warmth and inclusion that's seen the doors to the Nunciature -- "Peter's House," as he calls it -- constantly thrown open to church and community alike and, even more significantly, for spearheading a "revolution" in the Canadian hierarchy that's birthed a class of prelates able to mix doctrinal fidelity with pastoral concern, topped with a savvy, engaged touch.

The latter record is manifested in a trail of seventy appointments... with a few last ones, so they say, on deck.

Placed in the footsteps of Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli, who was named the church's Mercy Czar in early June, the City of Light hands Ventura a two-edged challenge as sizable as his talents: speaking for the Pope in the heartland of European secularism, its ways bled into the life of the national church, with a landscape populated by, among others, a hierarchy on orders to seek more priests and bolster its fidelity, a church that doesn't show on Sundays, and a pro-abortion rights Catholic currently on his third marriage as head of state.

Taken together, it's enough to make one's head spin... but still, the "Ace" seems undaunted.

Recorded in advance of this morning's announcement, the country's leading church outlet is running the following interview with the departing messenger...

...and an added tribute, to boot.

Ventura's successor in Ottawa wasn't named in the morning batch. A breather might be just as well, though -- he'll have enormous shoes to fill... and Luigi will be wildly missed.