Archbishop of New York says nuncio had the 'highest respect and deepest affection' of nation's Catholics

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, has died from complications of lung surgery performed three weeks ago.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the nuncio to the US since early 2006, “enjoyed the highest respect and deepest affection” of the US bishops and the nation’s Catholics, according to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, of New York, president of the US bishops’ conference.

Archbishop Sambi, 73, died last night at Johns Hopkins Medical Centre in Baltimore.

Last week the apostolic nunciature in Washington announced that he had been “placed on assisted ventilation to attempt recovery of his lung function” two weeks after undergoing “a delicate lung surgery”.

His family had travelled from Italy to be at his bedside. Bishops, priests and lay faithful were asked for their prayers.

“Archbishop Sambi understood and loved our nation,” Archbishop Dolan said in a statement. “He travelled throughout the country, often to attend the ordination of bishops, always eager to meet the faithful, and to share with them the affection that the Holy Father has for them and their country.”

“He was open to the media as a conveyor of truth and welcomed journalists as representatives of the American people,” he said. “He enjoyed everything from a stroll in the park near his residence in Washington to the diplomatic functions he attended as part of his service as the representative of the Holy See to the United States.”

A veteran Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Sambi was named as papal nuncio to the US by Pope Benedict XVI in December 2005. At the time of his appointment he was the Vatican’s representative to Israel and Palestine, where he helped arrange Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000.

After he arrived in the US in February 2006, he said in an interview with Catholic News Service in Washington that that he was impressed by the vitality of US Catholicism, the level of weekly Mass attendance among Catholics and their generosity toward others.

Archbishop Dolan recalled “the indispensible role” the nuncio had during Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the US in 2008, saying he had “enabled our entire nation to see the wonderfully warm solicitude of the Holy Father for America”.

Sambi was born 1938, in Sogliano al Rubicone, Italy, and ordained a priest in 1964. In 1991 Archbishop Sambi was named pro-nuncio to Indonesia and appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Israel and Cyprus in 1998.

His funeral will take place on August 6 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.