POPE FRANCIS NAMES ARCHBISHOP AUZA AS APOSTOLIC NUNCIO TO SPAIN
Archbishop Bernardito Cleopas Auza has nothing but good thoughts and warm wishes about the Filipino American community in New York and the tri-state area which welcomed him warmly with wide open arms when he took his post in 2014 as the Apostolic Nuncio or the Permanent Onserver of the Holy See to the United Nations.
Bishop Auza shared that he received word about his new assignment as Apostolic Nuncio to Spain and Andorra on October 1.
This ends his seven and half years in New York, where he has been posted twice: first as Deputy Permanent Observer to the United Nations from 2006 to 2008 and sent back as Permanent Observer in 2014.
“These have been years of learning and knowing in a deeper way all the big international questions that are discussed at the UN, the biggest multilateral setting in the world,” Archbishop Auza said at the sidelines of the farewell reception tendered in his honor by the Philippine Consulate General in New York led by Consul General Claro Cristobal.
Bishop Auza takes pride in having participated during his stint at the UN in big conferences which have given to the world some very important documents 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Treaty on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, the Global Compact on Safe Orderly and Regular Migration and many other multilateral achievements.
“I will certainly miss New York so much. There are so many Filipinos here,” he remarked.
While he considers himself as a priest doing diplomatic work for the Holy See, for the Holy Father but being a bishop, he also has the desire and intention to do pastoral ministry.
These include celebrating masses in various settings and communities, hearing confessions and blessing marriages and baptisms.
In the community, Bishop Auza was pretty visible in various community events such as the Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado.
Bishop Auza also hosted Pope Francis in New York during his official visit to the United Nations in September 2015 on the occasion of the summit on sustainable development goals.
“I’m very proud of that. I’m really most grateful that the Pope came during my time,” Auza quipped. “I was also here in April 2008 when Pope Benedict XVI also visited the UN. So I have had the privilege of having been here for the visit of two of the five visits of the Pope in the history of the United Nations.”
This December, Bishop Auza will take over his post in Madrid as the Papal Nuncio of the Kingdom of Spain and the Principality of Andorra.
“I am very happy for this change, it is a good and happy change. After seven years, from multilateral to bilateral work with a single country is a good change,” he added. “Being a Filipino, it does have a special flavor to represent the Holy See, the Vatican, the Catholic Church in general in Spain.”
“I will certainly miss the Filipino community here. I will miss the Simbang Gabi here at the Philippine Center,” he said. “I will miss the celebrations, from Simbang Gabi to Santo Nino to Santacruzan. We have many festivities celebrating patronal saints.”
For the past couple of years, Bishop Auza has been celebrating masses during the Simbang Gabi.
Auza will not be a stranger to Spain, having been educated by Spanish Dominican Friars in Manila and Rome, and having traveled extensively throughout the country. He speaks Spanish fluently.
He looks forward to reconnecting with the Filipino community in Madrid, there’s a big one he says, that is based out of his future residence. He celebrated a mass with them there three years ago.
Born in the town of Talibon, Bohol, Auza went to Rome for studies in 1986 and he looks forward to renewing his experiences in Europe, particularly in Spain this time around.
“I am moved and I have always felt the support. Wherever I went, there was always a big Filipino community to come out and support in the activities,” he added. “All the big celebrations of Filipinos not just in the tri state area, he also visited Miami, Dallas, Chicago and Detroit, among others, were all well attended.”
There is a joke in the Vatican, according to Bishop Auza.
“Find a young Filipino who has not been confirmed by Bishop Auza.”
The Pope himself laughed at the joke. One of Auza’s classmates relayed that to him. The Pope reportedly said, “Monsignor Bernardito is the international chaplain of the Filipinos.”
“I am very honored of that title and I intend to continue doing that,” he said.
When Bishop Auza was younger, he never thought he’d be in this point in his career.
“Looking back, I didn’t even know that there was a diplomatic service in the church, much less intending to join it. Everything was kind of unplanned,” he shared.
When he graduated in elementary school, his two eldest brothers married two sisters, whose father donated a big part of the land where the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary was in his hometown in Tagbilaran City, Bohol.
They suggested that Bishop Auza and his younger brother then should go to the seminary, and that started it all.
After high school there, he went to the University of Santo Tomas in Manila where he obtained his Licentiate in Philosophy, Licentiate in Theology and Masters in Education, after almost ten years of studying. His younger brother left and became a doctor.
“There was a natural progression, nothing dramatic. It was a continuous progressive maturation of my desire to become a priest,” he shared.
Bishop Auza was ordained in Santa Rosa, California in 1985.
The year after he was ordained, the Vatican Diplomatic School wanted to recruit Filipinos. His bishop then gave Auza’s name and luckily he made it through the interviews, so he went to Rome. He studied at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) where he obtained a Licentiate in Canon Law in 1989 and a Doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1990.
He attended the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy to prepare for a diplomat’s career.
In 1990, he was given his first assignment in Madagascar. He has also been assigned in Bulgaria and Albania, prior to his first assignment at the United Nations in New York.
“I’ve had great opportunities and privileges as my assignments have certainly helped me mature in this work,” Auza added.
During the tenure of Archbishop Auza, the Holy See Mission has been active in organizing an average of 20 conferences a year at the United Nations on the scourge of human trafficking, the persecution of Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, the right to religious freedom, the importance of fathers and mothers, the defense of the rights of indigenous people in the Amazon, the protection of migrants and refugees, the peace process in Colombia, interreligious dialogue as an essential component of peaceful and inclusive societies, the right to life, the advancement of women, and more.
As mentioned earlier, Archbishop Auza will spend October and November finishing up his duties in New York before arriving to begin his new responsibilities in Madrid on December 1.
Archbishop Auza describes his more than seven years of service of the Holy See to the United Nations as “intense years of learning and understanding more deeply the great international questions of our time.”
They were also years of “knowing and working with the Catholic Church in the tri-State area” (New York/New Jersey/Connecticut) and beyond, in particular in ministering to the Filipinos and other migrant communities. He expressed “profound gratitude to Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan,” Archbishop of New York “to all the other Bishops with whom I have worked, to all the priests, men and women religious and all the people of God for their kindness, welcome and great spirit of collaboration and fraternity.”
He said he looks forward “with enthusiasm” to working and exercising his priestly and episcopal ministries in Spain and Andorra.