2016-03-24 14:27:00

Archb. Wells: bringing together the work of a bishop, a pastor and a diplomat

(Vatican Radio)  The man Pope Francis has chosen to be his new Ambassador to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia is Archbishop Peter Wells.

For 14 years a senior official in the Roman Curia, the Pope announced Archbishop Wells’ appointment in February. He was ordained bishop on March 19 in St Peter’s Basilica during a ceremony celebrated by Pope Francis himself.
For the past six and a half years, he has been Assessor for the General Affairs of the Secretariat of State. But he has worked in the Vatican since 2002 in the First Section of the Secretariat of State, and was head of its Anglophone desk.

Archbishop Wells has served three Popes: Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis with loyalty, professionalism and dedication. 

Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni sat down with him to find out more about what it means to be a Papal Nuncio and asked him how he is preparing to face the many challenges of his new appointment.


Archbishop Wells says the preparation is two-fold: “The first part begins with the information that is offered to a new nuncio by our different competent offices”.

For instance – he explains – as the countries he will serve are under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, they are providing him with a set of instructions both regarding areas in need of attention and regarding positive realities to be tapped in to.

Likewise – he says – the Second Section of the Secretariat of State watches very closely on the political and diplomatic levels. It too offer a set of instruction focusing on what it sees as possible challenges and things that need to be supported and encouraged.

The second part – Archbishop Wells continues – has to do with a first-hand encounter with issues that have been raised and with everything else one he sets foot on new soil.

“I look forward to arriving there as soon as possible, to meeting with the bishops, the priests, the religious, the laypeople; to hearing them and then to really start focusing, from my own experience, on what we really need to look at, where we need to move, and where I need to be of assistance to the bishops and to the local Church” he says.

The Archbishop points out that a nuncio is there in a particular way to bring back to the Pope the concerns, the needs, the sufferings and the hopes of the local Church. 

“And at the same time to bring to the local Church the Pope’s encouragement, his love and his message” he says.

So, he reiterates that once on the ground his first priority will be to carefully listen and observe.

He explains that the job of a nuncio also involves entering into relationship with the governments of the countries he is sent to serve and where he has the role and responsibility of a diplomat.    

So, he says, if one of the first things he will do is to find out how he is best able to be of assistance to the local Churches, at the same time “I hope to have very fruitful relations with the local governments (…) and to continue to work to build and improve the relations the Holy See already has with these countries.”

Archbishop Wells says he thinks this is particularly important in the current world scenario with all the issues relating to migration, unemployment, the economic crisis etc.

“These are areas in which we can have very fruitful conversations and hopefully work together to see what kind of solutions can be found, not only locally” he says.

The Archbishop recalls the words of Pope Francis during a private audience with his family when he said: “a Papal Nuncio has a very difficult job because first of all he is a bishop, he’s also a pastor, but he’s also a diplomat. And he’s got to make all those three things come together. And the best thing that you can do is pray for him.”

He speaks of previous experiences in Africa where his first assignment was in Nigeria, and where he travelled with Pope Benedict XVI to Cameroon and Angola.

Wells says he is very happy to be given the possibility of going back to the African continent, a place “that leaves something in your heart, an indelible mark that you never get over. There is always a ‘longing’ to go back.”

Both Benedict and Francis, he says, have described Africa as a true continent of hope “and you see that hope in the people. They are aspiring for much more.”

Archbishop Wells concludes the conversation with a detailed description of the Coat of Arms he has chosen and that features the colours and the symbols of his personal heritage and of his life and growth in the faith and in the Church.

It also carries his motto: “Misericordia et Spes”.  “Mercy” for this Year of Mercy and for his service with Pope Francis, and “Hope” which was a theme in the Pontificate of Pope Benedict and a major component in the Encyclical “Spe Salvi” which Archbishop Wells is very fond of and which he wanted to include in the Coat of Arms that represents him.




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