Nuncio aims to fill offices that will empty over next few years

  • October 14, 2010
Archbishop Pedro Lopez QuintanaOttawa - Canada’s new apostolic nuncio is looking for holy men to fill the many episcopal offices that will become vacant in the next few years, especially in Quebec.

Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, who arrived in Canada last February,  said he is not looking for a person who can do everything, “because that is impossible.

“The bishop has to be first of all a holy man,” the archbishop said in an interview.  A bishop has to know how to work with advisors and collaborators.

Lopez Quintana will work closely with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who now heads the Congregation for Bishops in the Vatican.

“I am lucky,” he said. “I prepare my proposals and present them to the Holy Father through Cardinal Ouellet. I already have help in him.

“It’s a big responsibility,” he added, noting that to carry it out, “we have to have a very strong love for the Church, and not be easily influenced by external forces. Since I am Nuncio, I have discovered the importance of prayer,” he said. “More than 80 per cent of our work has to be made in the chapel.”

The archbishop sees Canada’s challenges lying in secularism, the lure of material wealth and consumerism, and a tendency to privatize religious faith.

“The Gospel says you can’t serve God and mammon,” he said. “People have to make a choice to centre their life on God or to centre their life on wealth, on consumerism.”

In Canada, in a sense “God is put aside,” he said. Canadians consider they are already Christians; they don’t need God because they are happy and only recover Him when they encounter difficulties as if He is “a medicine to help them.”

“You have to compete with that reality,” he said.

Before coming to Canada, Lopez Quintana served six years as nuncio to India, where Christians are a minority but the “personal God was in everything.” Christians there face the dangers of syncretism, of adopting too many beliefs and practices from other religions, he said.

But he noticed parallels in the ways the majority religion reacts to religious minorities. Hindus in India and Christians in Canada develop a kind of sickness or complex where they make such an effort to make sure minorities are recognized that the majority religion becomes a private affair, he said.

Out of respect for minorities, and not imposing beliefs in others, the majority religion is put aside, he said.

Before India, Lopez Quintana spent 13 years working in the Vatican with Pope John Paul II, five of those years closely, even sometimes sharing meals with him.

The late Pope ordained him a priest near the beginning of his pontificate in 1980, and ordained him bishop near the end of his pontificate in 2003. Pope John Paul II modelled a life of deep prayer and taught him how to surrender his life to the will of God — not to make any plans, but to follow, he said.

“He was continuously at prayer,” he said. “When he was working, he was praying.”  

John Paul II established a convent of contemplative nuns inside the Vatican and made Lopez Quintana the first chaplain. He saw up close the Pope’s deep devotion to Our Lady as well as private moments of his deep physical suffering.

“He was a strong man and for him it was a real cross,” he said. “He wanted to walk and the body was not following him.”

When John Paul II died, Lopez Quintana felt he had not only lost a man he loved as  Pope, but as a father.

Born in Barbastro, Spain, in 1953, the third of four children, Lopez Quintana sensed a vocation from childhood.

“I was a little bit fighting with our Lord. I had a long fight with Him.”

As a child, he loved going to church, serving at the altar and lingering after Mass. His father was a military man so the family moved frequently, impeding their ability to form easy friendships in any one location. That made for an even closer bond among his family members.

When he hit his teenaged years, he began to think that maybe the priesthood was not for him.

He entered university to study telecommunications engineering. Even though he did well in his studies, he felt a “kind of emptiness,” like “something was missing.”

“I was not happy with what I was doing,” he said. So he told God, “Okay, I surrender. I will go.”

When he entered seminary, he dreamed of becoming a parish priest.

Instead, his bishop sent him to Rome to study to become the spiritual animator of the diocese, to help priests deepen their spiritual lives through running retreats and other programs.

Then he was called to join the diplomatic service and enter the Pontifical Academy.  

His first assignment was Madagascar. For someone who enjoyed being close to his parents, he found himself “very homesick.” His next assignment was even further away — the Philippines. He eventually realized these faraway postings were “an intervention of God” because it helped him develop a sense of proper detachment.

He says God’s grace has “totally changed my life.” He is astonished at how he has gone from being a “very timid, shy person” who often finds himself doing things he never thought he could do. “I am saying every day (to God) it is your responsibility, not my responsibility. Go ahead!”

Though the new nuncio has only been in Canada six months, he has already visited every region and met almost every Catholic bishop.

In June, he spent 10 days in the Canadian Arctic, travelling from Baffin Island in Nunavut, to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and Whitehorse in the Yukon, viewing polar bears and meeting Inuit people in remote communities.

In the annual trip for diplomats organized by the Canadian government, Lopez Quintana also got a chance to view how the Gospel is being spread not only by Catholics but by other religions. He recalled meeting an Inuit woman at an airport on Baffin Island who noticed he was a bishop, and even though she was not Catholic, she introduced him to the others as her Christian brother. He seemed delighted at this display of heartfelt ecumenism.

Though the nuncio’s most important mission is maintaining communion between the Holy See and the local churches, he also plays a role as the Holy See’s ambassador to Canada.

He was very interested in last summer’s G8 and G20 summits hosted by Canada, especially the focus on Africa and the Canadian-led maternal health initiative.

“We were worried some will try to impose abortion as maternal health, when it is also a trauma for women,” he said.

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