FROM Diplomat, July/August 2005
If peacemakers are one of the eight beatitudes of Christ, then Archbishop Faustino Sainz Munoz, London’s new Apostolic Nuncio, whose 35-year career has been dedicated to resolving conflict, can consider himself truly blessed.As a junior diplomat in Finland, Archbishop Sainz Munoz was dispatched as part of the Holy See delegation to the CSCE preparatory talks. Negotiations were tough and the Holy See fought hard to ensure that religious freedom was enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act, a turning point in the Cold War.
Returning to the Vatican in 1975, he took over as the Holy See’s liaison with Poland, Hungary and later the USSR and Yugoslavia. A career highlight was accompanying Pope John Paul II to his homeland in June 1979. The Archbishop still remembers the Mass on Victory Square in Warsaw. The Holy Father began his Homily by saying that it was impossible to understand the ultimate meaning of man without Christ and that without Him it is impossible to understand the history of the Polish nation. The crowd erupted in cheers and for 20 minutes the Pope was unable to speak. “It is an image that I cannot forget,” he says. “Now, looking back, we can say that it was the beginning of the end of communism in Poland.”Two decades later he returned as Nuncio to the European Communities where he witnessed, to his great personal satisfaction, the reunification of Europe. European enlargement has not been without its challenges, however, not least negotiations over the European Constitutional Treaty where the EU’s secular states resisted a reference to God in the preamble, “against the desire of 50 million people,” adds the Nuncio, who hopes a reference might yet be included the future.Archbishop Sainz Munoz’s peace-brokering also extends to Latin America, where in 1978 he accompanied Cardinal SamorÈ in an emergency intervention by Pope John Paul II to avert war between Chile and Argentina over the Beadle Channel dispute. Five difficult years of mediation ultimately proved successful and the resulting peace treaty, elusive for 100 years, has held.His next posting, to Cuba, did not have such a “significant ending”, but the Nuncio recalls with fondness his long talks with Fidel Castro and working together with the Bishops to improve the position of the Church and the wellbeing of the Cuban people. He also recalls “the joys and the difficulties” of Kinshasa, where he was posted on the eve of the Rwandan genocide. When the conflict erupted it fell to the churches to come to the aid of the victims. “The Nunciature was a place of relief and even refuge for those who were persecuted,” he recalls, “even when the persecutors themselves became the persecuted.”The Nuncio feels the international community must bear some responsibility for the tragedy: “What would have happened if the international community had showed in 1994 more interest in the region as it had done, before and after, in other parts of the world, like in Europe or Asia?”Helping Africa remains a priority and the Holy See is keen to cooperate with Britain on initiatives such as the International Commission for Africa, the International Finance Facility and possibly debt relief. Methods will differ, he says, particularly in the fight against Aids.The Nuncio does not foresee a departure in the interpretation of the Gospel’s teachings during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI in many of the modern debates such as the use of condoms, abortion or homosexuality. “Thinking changes, society changes, fashion changes. But the central concept of human dignity from conception does not change,” he insists.
The Holy See will still consider different opinions, he adds, and will continue with its inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue, including the Anglican Church. Pope Benedict, who hails from a country with religious divisions, could offer insights into the challenges facing the Anglican Church.In between the political football, the Nuncio, a Real Madrid fan, hopes to visit his family in his native Spain and, from time to time, watch the beautiful game. Living a stone’s throw from Wimbledon Common, Archbishop Sainz Munoz, a walking and tennis enthusiast, has perhaps found a little piece of heaven on earth.