Archbishop Charles Balvo officially commenced his position of papal ambassador to Australia when he presented his credentials to the Governor General David Hurley on April 1.
A member of the diplomatic service for 35 years, the personable American speaks six languages and has served in New Zealand and the Pacific islands, Kenya and South Sudan, Latin America, the Baltic States, the Middle East and, most recently, the Czech Republic.
Humbly describing his linguistic abilities as “saying nothing in six languages”, he impressed local Kenyan priests with his knowledge of Swahili.
Archbishop Balvo was initially invited to Adelaide by the Seaton parish for the annual feast of St Hilarion celebrations on October 23. After consultation with Adelaide Archbishop Patrick O’Regan it was arranged for him to spend five days in the Adelaide and Port Pirie dioceses.
Archbishop Balvo said he was “very grateful” to have the opportunity to come to SA, starting with “a ceremony of popular piety”, the 67th feast of St Hilarion. Celebrated for the first time at Gleneagles Reserve, instead of the Mater Christi Church grounds, more than 6000 people are estimated to have attended the festival.
On the Monday, Archbishop O’Regan and Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ accompanied the Brooklyn-born Archbishop Balvo to Sevenhill where they were hosted by the Jesuits and taken to historic sites in the area.
“We went to Mintaro and then to Polish Hill River to see some of the small churches, and a small museum dedicated to the Polish presence in South Australia, so all in all it was very nice,” Archbishop Balvo told The Southern Cross.
The following day he travelled with Bishop Karol Kulczycki SDS to Port Pirie where he celebrated Mass in St Mark’s Cathedral with local faithful and school students from St Mark’s College.
Travelling to Peterborough, Archbishop Balvo had an opportunity to view the unusually green countryside which he described as “really magnificent”.
He also enjoyed visiting the presbytery and St Anacletus Church which was once the pro-Cathedral and heard from local parishioners over afternoon tea about the history of the parish and the once-thriving railway town.
Returning to Adelaide to celebrate the Votive Mass of Saints Peter and Paul in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, he concluded his homily by saying “the Church must be a place of mercy, freely given, where everybody feels welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel”.
His final day in the Archdiocese included a tour of the Hutt St Centre with Archbishop O’Regan. They experienced the busy lunch service in the Centre’s dining room, spoke with clients, staff and volunteers including Daughters of Charity Sisters Ratana Sriwarakul and Kathleen Boland.
“It does very important work, and it’s been doing that since 1954, starting very simple with Sisters giving out sandwiches and tea, to now a whole program of support,” he noted.
Archbishop Balvo also met with local clergy, including retired priests at Murphy Villa, and staff of the Diocesan Centre.
Commenting on his role as an observer to the Plenary Council in July, Archbishop Balvo said he thought it was a “very good experience”.
“The resolutions were dealing with important issues,” he said.
“It hit a bump but they worked it out, I thought they did a pretty good job of it to tell the truth.
“It was a very good atmosphere – priests, bishops, lay people really working together on these issues…but it’s an ongoing moment in history of the life of the Church, it’s not the end.”
Archbishop Balvo described his role of Nuncio as “this bond, a link between the Holy Father and local churches”.
“As far as my specific work, one of my important tasks is the process for the appointment of bishops, making consultations, identifying candidates and sending information gathered to Rome,” he said, adding another part of his work was “going around dioceses and seeing how things are.”
In terms of his diplomatic role, he said now that people were “living with COVID”, there was a resumption of invitations to national day receptions and cultural events hosted by the 111 embassies in Canberra.