Papayas, Kalashnikovs, the rosary: The world of one Vatican diplomat


A U.S. soldier rests near a statue of Mary outside a church in the Dora district of Baghdad, Iraq, in 2007. (CNS photo/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — Imagine every time you wanted to go outside you needed to give 72 hours advanced notice and then be escorted by guards “armed to the teeth,” toting Kalashnikovs and making you look “like someone arrested and taken to prison.”

And because you’re caged up inside your residence, which luckily(?) is also where you work,  you switch the TV on to soccer matches when you do your daily treadmill run so you can imagine that you’re free, dashing across that open field.

That is “The Day in the Life of” Archbishop Giorgio Lingua,” the 53-year-old apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, who splits his time between those two countries.

Like all papal ambassadors around the world, he acts as the pope’s representative and spokesman to national governments. He is also a channel of communication between the Vatican and local church communities.

But Vatican envoys are not merely diplomats; they are ordained archbishops who — like all pastors — are to carry out their job with a deep love for the Gospel and the church, and be a living sign of the pope’s presence and charity.

There are lots of meetings to attend, paperwork to sift through as well as religious celebrations, ordinations and church consecrations to preside over.

But imagine having that job in one of the most dangerous cities in the world: Baghdad.

Archbishop Lingua gave an extensive interview this month to BaghdadHope, an Italian blog, which posts and aggregates news about the church in Iraq,

The interview gives a fascinating inside look at the life of a nuncio who carries out his mission while living life as a virtual prisoner, walled up inside a heavily guarded nunciature in the Iraqi capital.

While I encourage people to go and read the entire post, here are some of my favorite moments in his daily routine:

  • The joy he feels walking in the nunciature’s struggling garden, coaxing tomato plants to sprout and cheer-leading the papayas to not give up in the heat.
  • His attachment to his smartphone, which wakes him up everyday at 6 a.m. and acts as his breviary, especially when there’s no electricity.
  • Reminding themselves every day, as they comb through their work, that “we are not an NGO” and must live “and put into practice the Word of Scripture.”
  • Evening pingpong matches on the Wii, where the archbishop and his secretary, Msgr. George, battle it out for the final victory prize: a piece of chocolate.
  • Ending his day by sneaking out, behind the guards’ backs, onto the terrace every night to pray the rosary and ask Our Lady to protect Iraq and its people. The vantage point gives him a view of Baghdad — a city, he says, that’s “like a woman wearing a burka,” where outsiders will never know what she really looks like.
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