My Friend, Pietro!

28 Jul

Slipping away from our group of pilgrims in 2000, Father Jim and I took a patriotic walk to the American consulate in West Jerusalem. From across the street, we watched guests coming out of the 4th of July bash, looking on as children not invited to a friend’s birthday party. Coming out of the consulate in a “relaxed” mood, and unable to convince the Marines at the gate to allow us in to eat the scraps that had fallen from the table, the archbishop insisted that he and his driver give us a lift back to our hotel. On the way to the Notre Dame Center we chatted and laughed with ease, me sitting in the back seat with him, feeling so comfortable in his presence that I was, by the middle of the short ride home, patting him on the hands, referring to him as “my friend, Pietro!” Getting out of the car that had, by the archbishop’s insistence, pulled up on a sidewalk, so that we would not need to cross traffic, I gasped to Father Jim, “What just happened? That was Pietro Sambi, the Papal Nuncio to Israel and Apostolic Delegate to the Palestinians.”

Two year later, my journal notes that it was September 20, visiting with some Christian friends and parish priests in Palestine, I asked the Palestinian young man and woman, who were my companions and escorts, to drive us to the Apostolic Delegation in East Jerusalem to see the Archbishop. With true Palestinian-Italian hospitality, he welcomed us into his home for juice, candy and conversation. He spoke of the Holy Father’s visit to the Holy Land, the challenges for the people and the churches of Israel and Palestine, the beauties of the American Church – and, with the warmth of a spiritual grandfather, he spoke with hope and encouragement to Vanda and Rudy, and more significantly, listened to them with affection and admiration in his eyes. We left the building with a rosary for my mother and a photo of our visit, and with that same “what just happened” expressions on our faces.

Archbishop Sambi, of good humor and great influence, was able to appreciate and join East and West. May he rest in peace, in the heavenly peace of which the angels sang on the first Christmas, for which he labored during his years in the Middle East, and for which the Christians in Bethlehem still long.            

Salaam, Shalom, Peace to you, my friend Pietro!

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