New Zealand bishops in Rome for their Ad Limina visit have met the fondly remembered former papal nuncio Archbishop Angelo Acerbi, whose diplomatic career included being held hostage by guerillas in Colombia and becoming the first nuncio to Hungary after the end of communism.
Archbishop Acerbi, now 94, is retired and lives in the Vatican in the Casa Santa Marta guest house, the home of Pope Francis and where the New Zealand bishops are staying during their Ad Limina.
The archbishop’s very first appointment as Apostolic Nuncio was to New Zealand and the Pacific from 1974 to 1979. Judging by the many likes and comments on the bishops’ Facebook page this week under a photo of him meeting the bishops in Rome, he is popularly remembered.
Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe says Archbishop Acerbi enjoys good health and maintains a fantastic memory.
“He has enjoyed connecting with us during our visit,” said Bishop Steve. “As bishops we have often commented about the loneliness of the life of a nuncio, but Archbishop Acerbi has a wealth of stories of encounters in New Zealand and the Pacific with clergy, religious and lay people.”
Italian-born Archbishop Acerbi was ordained in 1948, so this is his 71st year ordained. His Wellington-based nuncio appointment was followed by others in
Colombia, Hungary, Moldova and the Netherlands. In 1980 he was held hostage with 26 other diplomats for several weeks in Bogotá, Colombia, after an assault by the M-19 urban guerilla group on the Embassy of the Dominican Republic.
His appointment to Hungary in 1990 after the end of communism was significant as there had been no apostolic nuncio to that country since the communist takeover in 1945.
“He still has an active interest in our region and the life of the Church and society in our part of the world,” said Bishop Steve. “He clearly has a beautiful faith and love that reflects a life of faithful service of the Lord and his Church. His presence has been one of the unexpected joys of these days in Rome.”
Ad Limina Apostolorum (to the threshold of the apostles) visits are traditional visits made by Catholic bishops to Rome. The last ad limina by New Zealand bishops was in 2011, when Benedict XVI was Pope. After visiting the tombs of St Peter and St Paul and other holy places, the bishops are expected to meet Pope Francis on 28 October, when they will discuss matters of the Church in New Zealand with him.
Photo caption: Meeting Archbishop Acerbi at the Vatican; from left Bishop Paul Martin SM (Christchurch), Bishop Patrick Dunn (Auckland), Cardinal John Dew (Wellington) Archbishop Angelo Acerbi, Bishop Stephen Lowe (Hamilton) and Bishop Michael Dooley (Dunedin).