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Archbishop juggles dual role

By Peter Mazereeuw      
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The Catholic Church’s new ambassador to Canada is working from dusk ‘til dawn juggling his twin portfolios as representative to both Canada’s government and Catholic institutions.

Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi’s Ph.D. in education, as well as his more than 30 years of experience, will undoubtedly help him to learn the intricacies of both roles, as he has done several times before as a Vatican ambassador or apostolic nuncio.

Like any diplomat, he regularly attends receptions, follows relevant politics and meets with a range of people every day, said Mr. Bonazzi, who turns 66 in June. Most of his time, however, is spent promoting the role of faith in private life and working alongside Canada’s Catholic leadership on Vatican directives.

“The papal nuncio has not business interests to promote, has not passports to deliver. He tries to be listening and watching the life of the country in every aspect. But in a special way, he tries to follow, to accompany, to promote, to sustain the activity of the Catholic Church presence in the country,” he said, leaning forward in one of the ornate chairs circled in a sitting room in the apostolic nunciature, the Holy See’s diplomatic residence in Rockcliffe Park.

The wood-paneled room is lined with bookcases, decorative vases and a fireplace, over which hangs a portrait of Pope Francis. It hasn’t changed—apart from the portrait, of course—in the 19 years since his first posting in Canada, he said. 

Mr. Bonazzi grew up in Bergamo, a town in Italy’s mountainous North. He picked up skiing and bicycling, hobbies he hopes to continue in Canada, before travelling to Rome after secondary school to study theology.  

“Hills and mountains are in my nature,” he said. 

He went on to study education and, to his surprise, his Bishop asked him to enter the diplomatic service after he completed his Ph.D. Mr. Bonazzi said he believes he was chosen because he was already well-educated, and needed less than two years of training before he could fill the Church’s need for a diplomat. 

He was assigned to posts in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Africa, and North America, including Canada in 1999. After serving here as a councilor for just three months, he was appointed an apostolic nuncio to Haiti by Pope John Paul II. He went on to serve as the Church’s lead envoy to Cuba, Lithuania and Estonia, and Latvia before he was appointed to Canada in December. His work and experience has varied significantly between posts, he said. 

“It is difficult to compare five years in Haiti, in this country which is maybe the poorest in America, but which is also where you find people with the courage of living, with the courage to face the hardship of everyday life, which is incredible. Sometimes in Europe, in front of little difficulties, we fail,” he said.

“In Cuba, under this specific social system…the challenge is to respect the system, because I was not called to judge the system, but at the same time to promote the freedom of the Catholic Church,” he said.

His time in Canada will present its own challenges, both in his work with Canadian churches and the Canadian government. 

At the political level, he will need to speak for the church as it hashes out a lawsuit from the federal government alleging Canadian Catholic institutions haven’t paid their share of a 2007 settlement for the treatment of aboriginal children in residential schools. Mr. Bonazzi said it is an “ongoing question” whether the allegation is correct, but that “anything that can be done to recover from this, I think that the Catholic Church is willing to do it.”

He also hopes to have “close collaboration” with Canada’s year-old Office of Religious Freedom, which he called “a pearl in the institutional activity of Canada.”

On the church portfolio, Mr. Bonazzi said the diverse makeup of Canada’s priests will be a major factor in his work. They come from a wide range of backgrounds, and he suspects more have immigrated to Canada than were born here. 

“To work together when you are Polish, Cameroonian, Filipino, Indian, and Canadian, [there] is surely a possibility of a wider experience and a wider wisdom. But it is also a wider challenge to be able to work together,” he said. 

peter@embassynews.ca

@PJMazereeuw

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