VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI named Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, 70, to be the new nuncio to the United States.
In his most recent position, the Italian archbishop had served for two years as secretary-general of the commission governing Vatican City. He succeeds the late Archbishop Pietro Sambi in Washington.
Just minutes after his assignment was announced Oct. 19, Archbishop Vigano told Catholic News Service he hoped to get to the United States in time for the U.S. bishops' general assembly Nov. 14-16.
The archbishop said being nuncio in the United States is an "important, vast and delicate" task; he said he was grateful to Pope Benedict for entrusting him with the mission and he felt called to renew his "trust in the Lord, who asks me to set out again" to a new country.
Being a nuncio, he said, is "a call to know this people, this country and come to love them."
"For me to take the place of someone who was so loved, so committed, makes it an even greater challenge," he said.
Archbishop Vigano said he knew a U.S. presidential election is coming up, but before he can say anything "I need to hear from the bishops and learn from them. The election is important for the country and for the whole world."
New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a message of welcome to the new nuncio and said the bishops looked forward to meeting him at their November assembly in Baltimore.
Archbishop Dolan said that, as the pope's representative in the U.S., Archbishop Vigano would "serve as a continuing sign to us of that source of renewal and hope that Pope Benedict brought to our country" during his April 2008 visit. Archbishop Dolan said the new nuncio's variety of experiences would enable him "to see the intricacies involved in representing the Holy Father in both the church and diplomatic worlds, especially now as they are lived out in America's democratic society."
A nuncio is a Vatican diplomat with the rank of ambassador. He is responsible for diplomatic relations with the government, but also serves as the pope's representative to the church in a given country, which includes responsibility for coordinating the search for and vetting of candidates to become bishops.
While at the commission governing Vatican City, Archbishop Vigano earned a reputation as a careful administrator, skilled at cutting costs and improving the efficiency of an office that oversees the care of Vatican buildings, as well as the Vatican post office, police force and the Vatican Museums.
Born in Varese, in Italy's far north, he was ordained a priest in 1968 for the Diocese of Pavia. He entered the Vatican's diplomatic service in 1973 and served at Vatican embassies in Iraq and in Great Britain before working in the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1978-89.
He was the Vatican's permanent observer at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, from 1989 to 1992, when Pope John Paul II named him an archbishop and nuncio to Nigeria. Pope John Paul personally ordained him a bishop.
Archbishop Vigano -- who speaks Italian, French, Spanish and English -- was still serving as nuncio to Nigeria in 1997 when Pope John Paul visited the country.
Returning to the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1998, Archbishop Vigano coordinated the appointments of nuncios and papal representatives around the world.
In 1999, he led a five-man Vatican delegation to Iraq to try -- unsuccessfully, it turned out -- to make arrangements for Pope John Paul to visit. The pope had wanted to go to Ur, the city thought to be the birthplace of Abraham, as part of a biblical pilgrimage for the year 2000. At the time, Iraq was under an economic embargo by the West and Ur was under a no-fly zone being enforced by U.S. and British military.
In November 2010 the archbishop was called upon to represent the Vatican at the general assembly of Interpol, the international cooperative organization for police agencies. In his speech to the assembly, he highlighted the ongoing violence against Christians in Iraq, but also spoke more generally about the Vatican's conviction that the promotion of human rights is the best strategy for combating inequalities that lead to crime and terrorism.