The new Apostolic Nuncio to Poland, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, appointed on his feast day, 6 August 2016, says he is a spiritual son of John Paul II.
In this interview, the Italian-born archbishop discusses not only his relationship with the Polish saint, but also his love for football.
Interview by Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik.
Your Excellency, how did you react to the Holy Father’s decision?
Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio: In a spirit of gratitude and obedience to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, as each time I’ve been called to a new field of mission and service, always trusting in the Lord and Our Lady.
What are Your Excellency’s ties with John Paul II?
I consider myself a spiritual son of Pope Saint John Paul II, because he ordained me Bishop on the Solemnity of Epiphany, 6 January 1999, and sent me as Apostolic Nuncio to Rwanda. From my first mission in Panama, as clerk of the Nunciature (1979), to the mission in Thailand and some countries in Southeast Asia, the Holy Pope John Paul II accompanied my steps in this service, which he personally entrusted to me, with paternal solicitude. As a sign of gratitude to the Holy Pope, I chose as my episcopal motto Nolite timere (Do not be afraid) recalling the words that the Polish Pope vigorously addressed to the faithful at the inaugural Mass of his pontificate: “Do not be afraid, open the doors to Christ!”
Your Excellency, have you been in Poland before, and what is your impression of Poland and of the Poles?
In July 2009, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of my episcopal ordination, I visited Poland for the first time with a group of friends of the Association of Volunteers “Nolite timere.” I founded it together with the parish priest of my hometown, Giugliano (in the Diocese of Aversa), to help children of the village of Nazareth in Mbare (Rwanda), a village that Saint John Paul II asked to be built for orphans and needy children after the 1994 genocide. Our pilgrimage led us especially to the places linked to the memory of St. John Paul II. On that occasion, I got to know Poland, its history and culture, and above all the faith of the Poles, and it immediately made a good impression on me.
During my priestly ministry and diplomatic service, I’ve had the occasion to admire the fine qualities of my Polish friends and collaborators in the diplomatic service of the Holy See and also in the Roman Curia. Archbishop Marek Zalewski, currently Apostolic Nuncio in Zimbabwe, was my first co-worker in Thailand, and Msgr. Henryk M. Jagodziński, my deputy in India.
What are your hobbies and interests?
I have a passion for football; as a young man I enjoyed playing, but now, given my age and weight, I have to enjoy it on TV or whenever the opportunity to go to a stadium is offered to me. Of course, being a real Neapolitan, I am fan of “Napoli,” a club that recently signed a contract with two talented Polish players!
I would like to take this first opportunity to send my respects to the Polish authorities, a fraternal greeting to my Brothers in the episcopate, to the priests, religious sisters and brothers, to the seminarians, and all the lay faithful, in particular young people who inspired and experienced the recent World Youth Days.
Putting my trust in the maternal protection of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland, I ask you all to pray for me.