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from issue no. 06/07 - 2004

Portrait of Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo

When diplomacy rhymes with eutrapelia

by Gianni Cardinale

Giovanni Lajolo

Giovanni Lajolo

Last 7 October Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo was appointed Secretary for Relations with States (“foreign minister”) to replace Jean-Louis Tauran, newly created cardinal. Born in Novara 69 years ago, he has been a priest since 1960. A graduate in Canon Law, he entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1970. He worked in the pontifical representation in Germany as collaborator of Nuncio Corrado Bafile up to November 1974 and then for the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church. In that period he closely followed the negotiations that led to the signing, in 1984, of the revision of the Concordat between Italy and Holy See. In 1988 he was nominated Secretary of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) and titular archbishop of Cesariana. He stayed with the APSA up to 1995 when he was appointed apostolic nuncio to the Federal Republic of Germany. In his eight years spent on German soil, apart from organizing the Holy See’s pavilion at the Hanover Expo 2000 and the transfer of the nunciature from Bonn in Berlin, he was responsible for the many diplomatic agreements between the Holy See and various German länder: in 1996 with Saxony, in 1997 with Thuringia and Lower Mecklenburg-Pomerania, in 1998 with the Saxony-Anhalt, and lastly in 2003 with Brandenburg and with Free City of Bremen.
Lajolo took up his post on 24 November last. His first “public pronouncement” as “foreign minister” was at the Pontifical Gregorian University last 12 February where he made a speech at the solemn ceremony for the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of diplomatic relationships between the Holy See and Iran. His first mission abroad, from 11 to 13 May, was instead to Great Britain. In London he met the leaders of the Catholic Church, starting with the Cardinal of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and the primate of the Anglican Communion, Rowan Williams, as well as authoritative spokesmen for the Blair government such as Foreign Minister Jack Straw and the Chancellor of the Exchequer James Gordon Brown.
Two curiosities. The first is that Monsignor Lajolo, though an out-and-out Piedmontese, is also the son of an American citizen. As in fact he told the Catholic News Service, the press agency of the US episcopate, shortly after the announcement of his nomination, before getting married his mother had emigrated as a girl with her family to America and gained US citizenship «of which she was so proud she kept it after her return to Italy». Monsignor Lajolo also cultivates the little known virtue of eutrapelia. He revealed the fact in a memoir of his “unforgettable superior”, Cardinal Corrado Bafile, published last year in a miscellany edited by Monsignor Francesco Di Felice for the hundredth birthday of the Abruzzese cardinal (who was 101 on July 4). In the conclusion of his memoir Lajolo wrote: «The virtue of eutrapelia also helps to make every task – especially ecclesiastical service - more human, less burdensome and effective, and can contribute more than a little, as was the case with Nuncio Bafile, even to success in the work of a Holy See diplomat. It, too, is a delightful ray from the light of Christ». But in what does the virtue consist exactly? Monsignor Lajolo consented to explain it to readers of 30Days. Thus: «Eutrapelia can be described as the virtue of playfulness, as Saint Phillip Neri and Saint John Bosco had it. It is the easing of the bow overbent in physical or spiritual tension. A modern word to define it would be the art of relaxation. Saint Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologica – a famously serious and tightly-strung work, but also olympically serene – speaks of it several times and writes that the human mind snaps if it never “relaxes” from its concerns. Through the virtue of eutrapelia words and actions can be transformed into moments of calm. It shows itself in cheerful play but also comes through in a friendly humorous saying, in a shrewd story or in a spirited conversation. Examples of eutrapelia close to us are John XXIII, John Paul I and the present Pontiff».

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