Pope Francis names Italian archbishop to top Vatican post

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Pope Francis made a key appointment at the Vatican today, naming 58-year-old Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin as his new Secretary of State.

"It is with trepidation that I place myself in this new service to the Gospel, to the Church and to Pope Francis," said Archbishop Parolin in an Aug. 31 statement, which was released by the Holy See Press Office along with the news of his appointment.

For the last four years, Archbishop Parolin has been serving as the Vatican's top diplomat, or Apostolic Nuncio, to Venezuela.

In the much-awaited appointment, Pope Francis has tapped him to replace current secretary of state, 78-year-old Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, appointed in 2006 by Benedict XVI. Cardinal Bertone, a canon lawyer and theologian by training, has continued to serve Pope Francis since his March 13 election.

Archbishop Parolin was trained at the Vatican's diplomatic school and has extensive experience working with the Secretariat of State both in Rome and abroad.

He served in Nigeria and Mexico before working in the Vatican Secretary of State from 2002-2009, where he served in the high-ranking position of Undersecretary for Relations with States.

"He knows how the Vatican works, and how the Catholic Church works around the world," commented Greg Burke, Senior Communications Advisor to the Vatican Secretary of State, following the appointment.

The Vatican announced that Pope Francis has also confirmed Archbishop Giovanni Angleo Becciu as Subsitute for General Affairs; Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States; Archbishop George Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Household; Msgr. Peter Wells, Assessor for General Affairs; and Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, Under-Secretary for Relations with States.

However Archbishop Parolin's appointment as Secretary of State – the top Vatican post – is particularly important.

"Pope Francis will rely on him heavily for everything regarding international relations," Burke noted.

Archbishop Parolin has particular experience facing challenging diplomatic situations.

For many years, he led annual Vatican discussions of church-state issues with Vietnam's communist government. The eventual result was Vietnam's acceptance of a non-resident papal representative to the country.

Additionally, the archbishop has represented the Vatican at international conferences on topics such as human trafficking and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Archbishop Parolin is going to be one of the most influential aides of Pope Francis," said Burke.

In addition to his native Italian, Archbishop Parolin speaks French, English, and Spanish fluently.

His professional experience was not the only reason for his appointment, said Burke.

"The Pope certainly chose Parolin for his diplomatic experience," he explained, "but above all because he's a good priest, who shares the same vision of why people should work for the Church: to serve Christ and serve others."

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The archbishop entrusted himself to God's protection before such a "difficult and challenging mission," but he also expressed gratitude to Pope Francis for showing him "unmerited trust."

He pledged his "willingness and complete availability to work with [Pope Francis] and under his guidance for the greater glory of God, the good of the Holy Church, and the progress and peace of humanity, that humanity might find reasons to live and to hope."

Besides a deep devotion to the service of the Church, Archbishop Parolin seems to share something else in common with Pope Francis: the addition of a personal touch. At the end of his official remarks regarding his appointment, he added in Spanish, "And, as they say in Venezuela, 'May God bless you!'"

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