July 31, 2020

Pope Francis replaces one of his shadows

By Andrea Gagliarducci
Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, signed a joint declaration on human fraternity during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Feb. 4, 2019 Credit: Vatican Media.
Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, signed a joint declaration on human fraternity during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Feb. 4, 2019 Credit: Vatican Media.

Today, Monsignor Yoannis Lahzi Gaid leaves Domus Sanctae Marthae forever. The Pope’s second secretary greeted the personnel of the Domus on Jul. 30, thus ending  his 6 - year service.

There has not yet been an official communication from the Holy See Press Office, but the news about Msgr. Lahzi’s departure spread at the beginning of the week, and multiple sources have given confirmation. There will be a release most likely at the moment Pope Francis appoints Msgr. Lahzi's successor – if Pope Francis does that.

Msgr. Lahzi’s departure marks the end of an era, in a way. The ties to Pope Francis’s original team are completely severed.

When he was elected, Pope Francis inherited Benedict XVI’s first secretary, Msgr. Alfred Xuereb. Francis appointed Xuereb prelate general secretary for the Secretariat for the Economy (2014 – 2018) and then nuncio to South Korea and Mongolia.

Pope Francis brought since the very beginning another secretary onto the team: Msgr. Fabian Pedacchio Leaniz. Msgr. Pedacchio has been serving in the Congregation of Bishops since 2007, and he stayed on at the Congregation part-time while helping Pope Francis directly.

In January, Pope Francis dismissed Msgr. Pedacchio, who went back to a full-time job at Bishops. He chose as his second secretary Fr. Gonzalo Aemilius, an Uruguayan priest coming from a wealthy family who converted as a teenager and is famous for his work with street children. Msgr. Lahzi then became the first secretary. 

Fr. Aemilius came to Rome some time ago, and Pope Francis entrusted him with the pastoral care of the Santa Marta Pediatric Dispensary, a charitable activity of the Vatican. He had no previous Vatican experience.

If the next secretary has a similar profile, Pope Francis' agenda will be managed by two people with no previous experience in the Roman Curia. It would be a brand new situation, and the effects of it must be explored. The Pope's schedule is managed both by his personal secretaries and the Prefecture for the Pontifical Household. Coordination is rather important.

It is, however, well known that Pope Francis personally manages a significant part of his schedule. He has several meetings outside of the official channels.

Msgr. Lahzi leaves the Pope's personal Secretariat, but he will keep the Vatican diplomatic pass. As Pope's secretary, he was also pretty much committed to interreligious dialogue, particularly to dialogue with the Muslim university of al Azhar, based in Cairo. One can remember him standing behind Pope Francis when the Pope signed the Declaration on Human Fraternity with al Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed al Tayyeb.

Monsignor Lahzi was appointed "architect of interreligious dialogue" by the al Azhar university, and is now a member of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity. The Committee was set up to implement the Abu Dhabi declaration. It is chaired by Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Msgr Lahzi will not leave the Committee. He could be sent to a nunciature, but he will keep his work in his Committee and develop projects for the Church in Egypt. In the meantime, he appears to be maintaining his commitments in the service of the parish of Saint Domitilla in Latina, a city south from Rome.

Born in 1975, Msgr Lahzi studied in Rome at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, where he earned a Ph.D. He joined the Holy See diplomatic service in 2007. He served in the nunciatures of Congo and Gabon and was chargée d'affairs at the nunciatures to Jordan and Iraq.

In Baghdad, he lived very close to the church of Our Lady of Salvation, the Syriac-Catholic Cathedral. The cathedral was the target of a deadly jihadist attack on Oct. 31, 2010. 48 people perished in that massacre, and there is a beatification cause ongoing for them.

Msgr. Lahzi is now working to build an orphanage and a hospital in the Egypts’s new administrative capital – a “new Cairo” – located 28 miles east of Cairo proper.

The orphanage is called "Oasis of mercy," which will be owned by the Coptic Church and presented as one of the fruits of the "Document on Human Fraternity" signed at Abu Dhabi.

The "Bambino Gesù Women's and Children's Hospital" is a pediatric hospital affiliated with the Bambino Gesù of Rome, the pediatric hospital owned by the Secretariat of State. This hospital will be the Coptic Catholic Church's first health facility in New Cairo.

Both of the projects were presented in Jul. 21 at the headquarters of the United Emirates embassy in Italy.

END 

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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