I am just back from the memorial Mass at the National Shrine for Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Nuncio to the United States who died suddently this summer. Perhaps in tribute to the archbishop's roots, the Mass started late. Once it began, Holy Mother Church pulled out all the stops - in this case, literally, as an organ fanfare announced the procession which included dozens of priests and bishops and seven cardinals.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the USCCB, presided and preached the homily. He recalled an encounter with Archbishop Sambi shortly after the nunio had first arrived. They were vesting in the sacristy and Sambi asked Dolan whether it was the practice in the U.S. to wear the bishop's pectoral cross inside the chasuble or outside. Dolan replied, "Eccellenza, as a matter of fact, all the bishops will watch to see what you do and then follow suit!" Sambi's eyes sparkled and he said to Dolan, "Then I will keep changing it back and forth to confuse everybody." After a laugh, and a pause, Sambi added, "As long as it is over our heart, it does not reallt make any difference." The episode was, as Dolan affirmed, vintage Sambi.
In attendance at the Mass were Vice President Joseph Biden and many State Department officials, as well as dozens of ambassadors. I have never seen so many black towncars in one spot. The music from the Shrine choir was glorious. Msgr. Lantheume, the Charge d'affaires at the nunciature, thanked everyone for coming and especially thanked the White House on behalf of Archbishop Sambi's family for going above and beyond the call of duty in arranging for a U.S. government plane to fly the late archbishops's body and his family back to Italy for the funeral after his untimely death this summer.
Archbishop Sambi was a great nuncio and he will be greatly missed. It was fitting that the Church in the United States he served so well should give him such a fine send-off as he goes to that better world.