Earlier this week, I told the story of how Archbishop Pietro Sambi, papal nuncio to the U.S., had so generously welcomed Guest House to the Vatican Embassy in 2006. Guest House, the treatment center for Catholic clergy and religious, was celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding; and the nuncio’s enthusiastic support for our mission was evident in his remarks that evening.
In my brief report I fell short, though, of truly capturing his warmth and his charisma. Here’s what I mean:
In my post I included one group photo of the apostolic nuncio standing at the podium in the Embassy with a group of women from the Philippines. What I didn’t explain was that they were old friends—He had met them years earlier in their home country. He was very cordial to our Guest House group that evening: Catholic University faculty, White House staffers, Washington insiders; but as the evening drew late, he sat and played cards with these old and dear friends, enjoying their company as he always had.
And one other anecdote: Our staff pitched in to clean up a bit at evening’s end. As we were about to leave the offices of the Apostolic Nunciature, one of our group was carrying a tray and dropped a wine glass—which shattered on the marble floor and the rich oriental rug near the front door. “Oh, not to worry!” exclaimed the Archbishop with a smile. He hurried to a closet, pulled out a broom and dustpan, and began sweeping the shards of glass. We were left to watch as he cleaned up our mess, then he thanked us for coming and marched off to empty the dustpan as the Embassy door closed behind us.
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I saw Archbishop Sambi once again, years later, when Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in Yankee Stadium; and the apostolic nuncio was on hand to welcome the Holy Father to America.
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The “delicate lung surgery” he underwent a few weeks ago was not successful. After losing half his lung, presumably to cancer, Archbishop Sambi took a turn for the worse and he passed away yesterday evening.
May the angels welcome him into paradise, and may he live forever in the house prepared for him by the Father.
Rocco Palmo offers some insights on the life of this charismatic leader on his website, Whispers in the Loggia.