ON GLOBAL FILIPINOS: Archbishop Auza’s peacebuilding mission continues in Spain

With Pope Francis whom the Archbishop welcomed to New York in 2015: ‘Good sense of humor, no airs.’ Photo: L’Osservatore Romano

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

Archbishop Bernardito Cleopas Auza, the first Filipino to be appointed as the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, was recently named Apostolic Nuncio to Spain and Andorra.

Archbishop Auza is proud that during his five-and-a-half years as the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, many important global events had taken place.

Foremost among them is the support for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted on September 25, 2015, calling for an end to poverty and hunger with a goal of providing education and health care for all. On that day, the Holy Father Pope Francis addressed the UN General Assembly.

Another important development was the signing in 2016 of the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which was adopted in 2018, is another important milestone. It may not be a legally binding document, but it is a strong statement calling on member states to respect the fundamental rights of migrants.

During his tenure, Archbishop Auza has delivered hundreds of statements before the UN, schools and institutions, on many global concerns. His Statement on the Rule of Law was well received. “The ultimate and essential goal of all law…(is) to promote and guarantee the dignity of the human person and the common good…our common responsibility (is) to protect people from all forms of unjust aggression,” he said.

Born on June 10, 1959 in Talibon, Bohol (same hometown of President Carlos P. Garcia who is a relative) the Papal Nuncio is the eighth of 12 children.  His father was a farmer and his mother a dressmaker; they were solid, respected citizens of their town.

His two eldest brothers married two sisters whose family donated and helped build the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Tagbilaran City, where he and his younger brother studied high school. He stayed on and became a seminarian preparing for the priesthood, while his brother chose to study medicine specializing in Psychiatry.

He went to the University of Santo Tomas to continue his formation as a Catholic priest under the tutelage of the Dominican friars,  from 1977 to 1986. He graduated with a Licentiate in Philosophy, a Licentiate in Sacred Theology, and a Master’s in Education.

Filipino priests in New York and New Jersey bid goodbye at a send-off reception for Archbishop Auza. Photo by Joji Jalandoni

In 1964, his eldest brother joined the U.S. Navy, followed by his second eldest brother in 1966, and the third in 1972. This paved the way for the Auza family to immigrate to the U.S. While he was incardinated in his home Diocese of Tagbilaran, his ordination happened at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Pittsburg, California on June 29, 1985. The Archbishop has nine siblings living in the U.S., as well as his parents until 2015.

In 1986, he went to Rome for his doctoral studies and was recruited to join the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Vatican Diplomatic School in Rome. Besides his diplomatic and linguistic studies in Rome, Paris and Madrid, he obtained his Licentiate Degree in Canon Law and a Doctorate Degree in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas in Rome.

In June 1990, he joined the diplomatic service of the Holy See with assignments in Madagascar (1990-93), Bulgaria (1993-96), Albania (1996-98), the Section for Relations with States at the Secretariat of State in the Vatican (1998-2006), then at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York City.

After two years in New York, Pope Benedict XVI named him Titular Archbishop of Suacia and Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti in May 2008. On July 3, 2008, he was consecrated as a Bishop by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then Secretary of State, at the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican. Because of his multilateral experience, Pope Francis appointed him Permanent Observer to the United Nations on July 1, 2014.

Archbishop Auza told me that the highlight of his UN stint was welcoming Pope Francis to New York in September 2015. The Holy Father stayed for two days at the Apostolic Residence on East 72nd Street where the Archbishop has resided for almost seven and a half years.

“Pope Francis is very personable, no airs and informal in his discourse. He has a good sense of humor. We spoke in Italian and occasional Spanish,” he recalled. Archbishop Auza was able to have his parents, brothers and sisters and their spouses meet Pope Francis during that visit.

He is well regarded, respected and loved among his peers at the United Nations and among the Filipino American communities in the New York Metropolitan Area and beyond. Since his new assignment was announced, invitations to despedidas or going-away parties were non-stop.

He was scheduled to leave on November 15, 2019 to visit his parents, Meliton Garcia Auza and Magdalena Polestico Cleopas in Bohol, after which he would proceed to Madrid. His parents will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary on January 28, 2020.

His life can be summed up by his favorite motto: “Ut Diligatis Invincem,” translated to mean,  “Love one another.”

(C) The FilAm 2019

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