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from issue no. 06/07 - 2008

ROME. A meeting with the new Cardinal Vicar of His Holiness

I can count on the grace of the Lord and the prayer of cloistered nuns

Cardinal Agostino Vallini, whom Benedict XVI has appointed his Vicar General for the diocese of Rome, tells of his relation with the Eternal City: schools, studies at the Lateran, the times of the Council, his experience as bishop and in the Curia. An interview

Interview with Cardinal Agostino Vallini by Gianni Cardinale

On 27 June Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Agostino Vallini as his Vicar General for the diocese of Rome. The prelate, who was from 2004 prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, takes the place of Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who held the post from January 1991. 30Days who interviewed him at the time of the announcement of his nomination as cardinal in the January/February 2006 issue, asks some questions of the Pope’s new Vicar.

Cardinal Agostino Vallini celebrates the first mass as the Pope’s Vicar for the diocese of Rome 13 July 2008 in the parish of Santa Maria in Transpontina, in which Our Lady of Mount Carmel is venerated

Cardinal Agostino Vallini celebrates the first mass as the Pope’s Vicar for the diocese of Rome 13 July 2008 in the parish of Santa Maria in Transpontina, in which Our Lady of Mount Carmel is venerated

Your Eminence, how did you take the appointment as Cardinal Vicar?
AGOSTINO VALLINI: With trepidation and a sense of inadequacy. But with total reliance on Divine Providence. I know that I can rely on the grace of the Lord, on the closeness of the Holy Father and the prayers of many, particularly those of the monasteries of contemplative life that silently but effectively constellate this our beautiful Rome.
However, the rumours that predicted your appointment began to circulate several months ago. When did you first become aware of your “destiny”?
VALLINI: It’s true, the rumours, especially in the media, began a long time ago. My name came up together with those of others. I can say that I learned in reliable fashion of the appointment on 21 June last year when I was received by the Holy Father Benedict XVI during an audience granted me for another, very important, matter. I was called, in fact, because the Holy Father had approved the new Lex propria of the Apostolic Signatura, reformed in light of the new Code of Canon Law, of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus and of the new Rules of the Roman Curia. This new law, which governs the procedure of the Supreme Court, was finally passed by the plenary assembly of our Department in November last year and I had delivered it to the Holy Father for him, after careful examination, to approve in view of promulgation. Something that took place precisely on 21 June. On that occasion the Pope told me he had decided to nominate me his Vicar for the diocese of Rome.
The media also suggested that you were hesitant in accepting the post…
VALLINI: I let myself be guided by a criterion of faith. I was certainly worried about such a challenging post. Because the media rumours, which for the most part were reported to me, also got me thinking. But in my mind there was always a positive willingness, because for us priests obedience is primarily a matter of faith and heart. And I am a bishop who has promised fidelity to the Pope and a cardinal who has sworn obedience usque ad effusionem sanguinis. So I immediately prepared to accept the proposal, if it was made to me by the person who had to do so.
You were born in Poli, a small town in the province of Rome, but from childhood you lived in Corchiano, then in Caserta and then in Naples, where you became a priest in 1964. What was your first contact with the city of Rome?
VALLINI: My first contact with Rome dates from the period immediately following the Second World War. At the time I was living in my mother’s town, Corchiano, in the Viterbo area, because my father, a Carabinieri sergeant, was prisoner in Germany. With great sacrifices my mother sent my elder sister to do middle school in Rome, at the Maestre Pie Venerini sisters, in Via Gioachino Belli, 31. So we often went to visit her. Then I remember particularly the Holy Year of 1950, when we came on pilgrimage to Rome for an audience with Pope Pius XII in St. Peter’s Square. I remember that it was a very rainy day, but the joy of seeing the Pope overcame every difficulty.
Your first stable period in Rome was 1964-69. After being ordained priest, you were sent by the archbishop of Naples Alfonso Castaldo to study at the Pontifical Lateran University. What do you remember of that time?
VALLINI: It was the time of Vatican II. One was enthusiastic about that atmosphere. I remember it as a very fine and rich moment in my life. I experienced the Council with great passion. I followed, I studied the documents. So Vatican II was the great signpost of my priesthood.
At that time you came in contact with the lay group “Follow me”.
VALLINI: It is a promising ecclesial group, but – to tell the truth – little known. I came into contact with that association of the faithful because the co-founder was one of my professors, the Spanish Claretian Father Anastasio Gutiérrez, a great jurist and a great priest. “Follow me” was and is a reality created to help all the faithful, the laity but also priests, to develop their vocation. And I joined to be helped spiritually in fully living my vocation as a diocesan priest.
Again in that period among your teachers, in addition to Father Gutiérrez, there were also two lay people, Guido Gonella and Gabrio Lombardi.
VALLINI: Lombardi taught the Institutions of Roman Law and Gonella Philosophy of Law. It was a period of great ecclesial and cultural fervor and it was exciting to attend the lessons of these two figures of whom I have a great memory, as professors, but also as men and Christians.
But Gonella and Lombardi were also involved politically. Of you it is said, instead that you are “apolitical”.
VALLINI: That’s not right. First I am a citizen and as such am present in social life and therefore political, giving politics, however, the meaning that Paul VI gave it: the highest form of social charity. So I am not “apolitical” I don’t feel so and I do not want to be so. Another thing is party business proper, which is specific task of lay Christians, called to manage the terms and forms of the concrete realization of the common welfare of society.
You as vicar will have to deal with the civil authorities of the city. According to what criteria will you relate to the authorities and with the political world in general?
VALLINI: My “guiding star” can only be the doctrine of Vatican II on relations between Church and political community. e who are suffering. In this sense, the caritas aspect – which for us Christians is not simply a matter of alms or occasional help, but an expression of love of Jesus, forbearing in the lives of people, our suffering brothers – will be a point on which we shall continue to co-operate with the authorities, as has always been done in Rome, in very commendable fashion.
Paul VI at Vatican II

Paul VI at Vatican II

That is why your first visit as Cardinal Vicar, although unofficial, was to a family-home of the diocesan Caritas where women victims of “trafficking” are taken in and their social reintegration begun…
VALLINI: The Church of Rome, according to the beautiful expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, is that which “presides in charity”. For that reason also the Church of Rome and, if possible, even the city of Rome must shine in helping the most wretched in society. So it seemed natural to me to immediately visit one of the many initiatives of the praiseworthy Caritas of our diocese.
Let’s go back to your previous experiences in Rome. In 1971, after two years spent in Naples, you returned to Rome, called by the Archbishop Pietro Pavan, then cardinal, to teach Public Ecclesiastical Law at the Lateran, where you remained until 1978. They were hot years, both politically and ecclesially.
VALLINI: In effect they were difficult times. I still remember with emotion the day of the kidnapping of Aldo Moro and the killing of the men of his escort. That morning I was engaged at the Lateran in a study seminar on “The Right to religious freedom and article 7 of the Helsinki Declaration”. Among the speakers there was also the then Monsignor Achille Silvestrini, now cardinal. In the break the dramatic news reached us. They were years with events that caused much suffering.
They were also the turbulent years after the Council.
VALLINI: As I said some years ago in an interview with 30Days, in that period, which also at the ecclesiastic level was not always serene, my point of reference was constantly Paul VI and his teaching. My view of the Council was that of Pope Montini, a view, to use the terminology of Pope Benedict XVI in his speech to the Roman Curia, on 22 December 2005, based on the “hermeneutics of reform” and certainly not on that of “discontinuity and rupture”.
In autumn 1976 there was the ecclesial conference in Rome entitled “Evangelization and human advancement”. What do you remember of it?
VALLINI: I participated willingly. Overall, I have a good memory of it. It was a moment of great ecclesial fervour, very interesting. Even if – it’s right to point out – it had aspects that over time had to be further gone into.
Your third continuous stay in Rome dates back to 2004 when – after being Auxiliary of Naples from 1989 to 1999, the year you became bishop of Albano – you were appointed prefect of the Apostolic Signature. What image do you have of the city and diocese of Rome in these recent years?
VALLINI: In truth I know Rome very little, because my posts have so far committed me to an almost monastic life of work and study, which, in some way, has disconnected from the context in which I have nevertheless lived. I shall strive to get to know the situation of the diocese as soon as possible. I have already started to do this with the valuable help of the Vice-gerent, the auxiliary bishops and the collaborators of the Vicariate offices.
Your first visit to a Roman parish was on 13 July to the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina. Why particularly there?
VALLINI: Because it is in that parish that traditional celebrations in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel are held, whom the Church celebrates every 16 July. It was a providential opportunity to put my new mission under the loving protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Is there any figure in the Roman clergy who inspires you particularly?
VALLINI: I have a very fine memory of Monsignor Roberto Masi, rector of the Saint Apollinare College, which hosted me when I was in Rome in 1964. He was a theologian, but above all a great priest, who guided us with the testimony of his life rather than with his very relevant lectures.
Have you projects for your new appointment?
VALLINI: I don’t and I can’t have personal projects. The Rome diocese is a particular one. The bishop is the Pope and I am only his Vicar. So I shall take up the wishes and indications of the Holy Father and, together with the Vice-gerent, the auxiliary bishops, the parish priests and all the pastoral workers, I shall try to contribute so that we can get things done. With the hope that Jesus, the Lord, becomes increasingly known and loved by the Romans. In the light of this, in my first message to the diocese, I referred to the words of Benedict XVI at the recent diocesan conference, when he spoke urgently of the “educational emergency” and outlined the objectives for the next pastoral year from the point of view of theological hope, what Charles Péguy defines in a beautiful image the “childish virtue”.
Your Eminence, a personal question. As you have already mentioned, you are the son of a Carabiniere. What do you remember and what influence did your father have on you?
VALLINI: He was a great example of how to live and, therefore, a great educator. He was of humble origins, had a great sense of justice and for that reason he did not, as they say, care whom he might offend. But at the same time he had a great heart and was a person who spent many years of his life after retirement working for the poor of Naples, in the district in which we lived. I must confess that whenever I find myself faced with a choice to make the first question I ask is: but what would father have done in my place? That is why I always ask the fathers of families whom I meet to be a human and Christian reference point for their children. Children, even if we don’t notice, always look to their parents and follow their examples more than their words. That is true in the small and in the large things of life.
Cardinal Agostino Vallini in the portico of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

Cardinal Agostino Vallini in the portico of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

In the same message you sent the day after your appointment there was the declaration that in Rome there “are many” who “need those who will show them the mystery of Jesus Christ”…
VALLINI: It’s a fact. Which must not, however, discourage us but spur us to pray more so that we may be able to show, with the witness of our life and apostolic zeal, the beautiful face of the Bride of Christ. So that the Church of Rome, its every parish, may be a place of Christian hope where everyone can discover the joy of the Christian faith. Because our diocese is the diocese of the Pope and for that reason has an “exemplary” duty which it cannot evade.
Again in the message you write that for effective pastoral today “the usual efforts of the traditional Christian life are no longer enough”…
VALLINI: That does not mean that we must abandon those traditional efforts, which remain valid and relevant. Only that they are no longer sufficient to reach everyone, especially those who no longer have contact with the Church. Above all it is no longer sufficient, as perhaps it once was, to look after those who have and continue to have those contacts, always presupposing faith in them. The world of today is more difficult. It is therefore necessary that the “good news”, the Gospel, is again proclaimed and accepted as a reason of life, capable of giving light and the strength of salvation to the people of our time. It is necessary that the heart of these people be touched by the grace of God, and feel accepted by his mercy.
From 1985 till last year, the office of the Pope’s Vicar for Rome was associated with that of the President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, first in the person of Cardinal Ugo Poletti then in that of Cardinal Ruini. After a long period, therefore, you will be the first Cardinal Vicar not President of the Conference.
VALLINI: I’m very pleased that it’s so, because I would find myself in great difficulty having to deal with an even larger situation. I believe the diocese of Rome merits my full time dedication without other tasks.

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