ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican is appointing a new ambassador to the United States.
In an announcement Tuesday, Rome declared Pope Francis had selected Abp. Christophe Pierre to assume the role of apostolic nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Pierre will succeed Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò. Archbishop Viganò, who held the position since 2011, turned 75 in January, reaching the required age to submit a request for permission to retire, as prescribed by canon law.
Speaking of Viganò, Abp. Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, current president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), thanked the retiring prelate for his "selfless contributions to the life of the Church in the United States."
Kurtz additionally extended to Abp. Pierre "a heartfelt greeting and [his] prayerful support as [Abp. Pierre] embarks on his service to our country."
Archbishop Pierre had previously held the position of apostolic nuncio to Mexico, an appointment he assumed in 2007. Prior to that he served as ambassador to both Haiti and Uganda.
According to Italian journalist Sandro Magister, the appointment of Pierre was "imminent" as the archbishop is a confidant of Pope Francis and is described by the journalist as "Bergoglian." Sources close to the Mexican bishops' conference assert Pierre is "known for suggesting solid, reliable candidates to the episcopate."
The announcement was met positively from many of the nation's prelates, including Cdl. Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., who stated, "Archbishop Pierre is recognized for his distinguished diplomatic career and service to the Church. I look forward to welcoming him to this archdiocese where he will make his home as he carries out his responsibilities across the country."
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia declared that Abp. Pierre has "displayed a strong sense of just diplomacy" in his past endeavors and said his "broad experience will greatly benefit the Church in the United States."
Chaput also commended Abp. Viganò for his work, stating that "[t]hroughout his time as nuncio to the United States, Abp. Viganò worked zealously for the spiritual welfare of Catholics and many other good people in our country. I am particularly thankful for his personal friendship and invaluable assistance as the archdiocese of Philadelphia prepared for the World Meeting of Families and the visit of our Holy Father last year."
Speaking at the Pontifical North American College's annual rector's dinner, Viganò discussed the situation facing the newly appointed nuncio, noting that "the past years have been very challenging for the Church in America."
The archbishop emphasized the need for the faithful to pray that
the United States of America will protect our freedom, especially our religious liberty, as well as respect the human right to conscientious objection, and that we will be courageous in always defending the freedom to put our Catholic faith into practice without fear. ... This is an age when we need great courage — courage to stand up for the truth, even when we are not understood, or persecuted when we are understood. We need to be strong in the face of evil.