The Pope's ambassador to the United States died in a Baltimore hospital Wednesday night after complications following lung surgery.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, 73, was a well-respected papal diplomat who, according to reliable sources, was soon to take up a senior position in the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Sambi as the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States in 2005. Previously he represented the Pope in countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Previously he was the Pope's ambassador to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In Washington, the Italian papal diplomat is remembered for helping to arrange a meeting between clerical sex abuse victims and the Pope. The encounter turned out to be a key moment of Benedict XVI's 2008 visit, and set a precedent for other papal visits.
An affable and warm prelate with a keen sense of humor, he is also remembered for skillfully steering the Catholic Church through often tense relations with the Obama administration whose policies on issues such as abortion and same-sex rights have clashed with U.S. bishops and the Holy See.
U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel Diaz paid tribute to Sambi by saying he had a “profound understanding of the rich and diverse reality of the United States” and that his diplomatic skills had a “lasting impact.”
Sambi was a keen supporter of Catholic education in the United States and would frequently praise the charity of American Catholics. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he brought relief workers in New Orleans to tears with his words of appreciation for their commitment to service.
Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, a veteran papal diplomat who served as the Holy See's representative at the U.N. in New York, said he was “very sorry for his unexpected death”, adding that Sambi was “appreciated highly in the diplomatic world”.
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the late prelate enjoyed the “highest respect and deepest affection” of the U.S. Church. “Archbishop Sambi understood and loved our nation,” Dolan said in a statement.
Dolan said Sambi possessed a “keen sense of diplomacy” and had a “pastoral sensitivity cultivated through his many years as a faithful and devoted priest.”
Sambi also won the respect of citizens in the Holy Land. He played an important role in the preparations and management of the Blessed Pope John Paul II's visit to the region in 2000.
In addition, he provided leadership during the Second Intifada, and particularly during the so-called “Siege of the Nativity” when, in 2002, Israeli forces surrounded the Basilica of the Nativity, religious buildings and outbuildings, where dozens of Palestinian fighters had barricaded themselves to escape capture.
As negotiators continued decade-long efforts to resolve a long-running dispute between the Vatican and Israel over tax and property rights, Sambi offered crucial support.
And while in Washington, he remained “deeply devoted” to the Holy Land, using his “contacts and great popularity” to promote support for the Church in the region, according to Msgr. David-Maria A. Jaeger, a Church law expert and leading figure in the Vatican-Israel talks.
Were it not for his unexpected death, Newsmax has learned that Sambi was destined to head the Prefecture for Economic Affairs at the Vatican — an important post that involves overseeing the finances of the Holy See. Some Vatican observers said his replacement as nuncio had already been made.
Archbishop Sambi is the first-ever papal nuncio to die in office in the United States. His funeral will take place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Aug. 6.
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