SR. CARMEL ANN: Your Grace, we heartily welcome you in our midst. It is now four months since you arrived in Kuwait and we are very happy to have you here. Your inspiring sermons, your approachability and your humor have already made a mark on everybody and we want to get to know you better and learn more about your priestly vocation, your elevation as archbishop and appointment as papal nuncio.
Before I touch upon these aspects of your life, please tell us a little about your family and your growing years in Canada.
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: My parents are Croats who were born in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They came into the world in the 1930ís a few years before World War II broke out in Europe and had a difficult childhood. They experienced all the sufferings of the war, as well as the terrible consequences of the arrival of communism in the country in 1945, which only produced more hardships, poverty, discrimination, loss of property, fear and left little hope for the future. It was in 1958 that they made the important decision to flee the country together and seek a new life filled with promise and freedom in the West. They managed to escape and cross the border from what is now Slovenia into Austria, where they stayed in a refugee camp until they received their travel papers allowing them to immigrate to Canada. Settling in Toronto, Ontario, they raised three children of whom I am the oldest, followed by a sister and brother. I was educated under the Catholic system during my elementary and high school years and then I attended the University of Toronto, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1982.
SR. CARMEL ANN: When and how did you discover that God was calling you to be a priest? Was it easy for you to answer the call?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: Our family was always closely associated with our local Croatian parish and while I was still a university student I became more acutely aware of the importance of our faith. As a young man I was involved in the parish youth group and attended a few spiritual retreats during my student years, which helped me in discerning my vocation. I rediscovered the value of prayer which fostered a deeper knowledge of Godís will for me. Once I was able to become aware of the Lordís invitation to follow him in the priesthood, I answered with my "here I am Lord". This process of deciding my future was not however made quickly or without intense prayer. Other considerations that were involved were leaving my family and friends to pursue my studies in the seminary abroad, yet my desire to become a priest was stronger than anything else at that moment and this is what gave me strength to follow this vocation. Upon finishing university in 1982, I left Toronto for the Major Seminary of Sarajevo in order to start my studies in Philosophy and Theology.
SR. CARMEL ANN: Many people have surely played a role in your vocation. Who were they and how were they instrumental in shaping your vocation?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: Even though my parents did not direct me to become a priest, their exemplary Christian life was certainly the starting point for my vocation. The parish priests I knew while growing up were also fine pastors. Yet the life of Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, the Archbishop of Zagreb, Croatia from 1937-1960, whose biography I read while still a young student, was very influential in inspiring me and providing a stimulus to consider following Christ in the priesthood. His deep convictions in the divinity of Jesus Christ, his homilies and example of unwavering faith despite persecutions, his heroic witnessing during his trial and the years of his imprisonment by the communist authorities of the time, were a great inspiration and truly influential in shaping my decision to enter the priesthood.
SR. CARMEL ANN: What is the ministry of a bishop? What is meant by "fullness of orders"?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: The ministry or office of bishops in the Church is that of sanctifying, teaching and governing. It is a threefold office entrusted to them through Episcopal ordination in which they become Pastors empowered to be leaders of sacred worship, teachers of doctrine, and ministers of governance. The Magisterium of the Church teaches us that Episcopal ordination confers the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, since it is the third and highest level of the sacred ministry. The initial order is that of deacon, followed by priest and then the fullness of Holy Orders as bishop.
The "laying on of hands" during the Episcopal Ordination Ceremony. It is the symbol of the power of the Holy Spirit coming down on the candidate and consecrating him bishop. The Principal Consecrator was H.E. Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, S.D.B.,
Secretary of State of His Holiness. The Co-Consecrators were H.E. Vinko
Cardinal Puljic, Archbishop of Sarajevo and H.L. Bishop Ratko Peric
of the diocese of Mostar.
SR. CARMEL ANN: What were some of your thoughts and feelings on the day of your priestly and Episcopal ordination? What personal feelings were conveyed to you by your dear ones?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: On the day I was ordained a priest I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude to God for the gift of Holy Orders and at the same time of my unworthiness. The same feelings were present almost twenty three years later on the day of my Episcopal ordination, only to an even greater degree. These mixed personal feelings were then intertwined with the many expressions of congratulations and encouragement I received from my family, friends, parishioners and others who have accompanied me on my life journey and have been a great source of support. They were all truly happy for me and for our local community because I was the first from our parish to receive Holy Orders.
The family and relatives of the newly ordained Archbishop joyfully celebrate
the occasion with thanksgiving in their hearts! The Archbishop's family
arrived from Canada to witness the consecration.
SR. CARMEL ANN: What is your motto as priest and bishop? What does your coat of arms symbolize?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: The motto I chose for my ordination to priesthood was: "Here I am Lord, I come to do your will" which is a quote from Psalm 40 and Hebrews 10:7. My Episcopal shield is in the form of a chalice and is similar to that of Pope Benedict XVI who appointed me. The predominantly red background symbolizes God's great love towards mankind and the world. The two red fields to the left and right are a stylized form of the Canadian flag with its two red fields to the sides.
In the center is part of the Croatian checkerboard shield. Hence, in the background are found symbols of the country of birth as well as origin. All of the symbols are coloured in gold. In the very centre there is the Christogram, the first two letters of the name of Christ in Greek, which refer to Christ as the center and goal of our faith. In the upper left field (the heraldic right) there is an eight-pointed star which symbolizes the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our spiritual Mother, also known as the Morning Star. In the right field (the heraldic left) there is a shell in the shape of a heart, which reminds us that we are all pilgrims in this world on our way towards the Heart, to eternity. The motto for my Episcopal shield is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, 5:1 "For freedom Christ has set us free". The motto expresses the spiritual desire that every person has and wishes to achieve in oneís life Ė responsible freedom! Spiritual freedom is a gift from God, that liberates one from the influence of any evil, whether sin or anything else that can lead a person to spiritual or corporal slavery. Christ has set us free for this type of freedom through his sacrifice on the cross and has enabled us to live as free children of God; to serve Him "without fear" (Lk 1:74), with joy and dedication, faithful and grateful to Him all the days of our lives for the great gift of salvation we have received "from his fullness" (Jn 1:16).
SR. CARMEL ANN: The Year for Priests has just concluded. What impact did it have on you personally?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: I was genuinely pleased that the Holy Father decided to proclaim a year for priests and felt that this was indeed an inspired gesture on his part in order to revive an awareness amongst all the faithful of the importance of the priesthood in the Church. Personally, it reminded me of the necessity to pray for my brother priests throughout the world, those already serving God and the Church in various ways, as well as for those preparing for the priesthood and for new vocations. During the course of this past year for priests, I was appointed Apostolic Nuncio by the Holy Father and received Episcopal ordination, the fullness of Holy Orders, which made this year a truly grace-filled and memorable one for me.
SR. CARMEL ANN: This year should have been a year of greater appreciation of our priests, instead, it highlighted to a great extent their human weaknesses. While such propaganda can do much damage, can it undermine the credibility of the Church or the clergy?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: Even though the media reported extensively on the various scandals involving priests during the past year, I donít believe they succeeded in undermining the credibility of the Church and the hierarchy in the hearts of the majority of the faithful who are intelligent enough to understand what was going on. Everyone agrees that the scandalous behavior of the small number of priests involved in the proven abuse cases must certainly be condemned and properly dealt with. And while the Churchís response to some cases of abuse in the past was inadequate, I believe that the Holy Father has demonstrated great courage and leadership in resolving this issue now in a straightforward and transparent way, which shows the Churchís desire to be faithful to its mission and responsible to its faithful. The faithful therefore know and appreciate the role of priests and bishops in the Church, who have been entrusted with the mission of continuing Christís work in the world, yet who also remain sinners in need of Godís mercy. This can be a reminder to all of us, clergy and laity, of our common calling to lead holy lives according to Godís commandments. One can only hope that the Churchís current response will be an incentive to governments, lawmakers, societies and people everywhere, to act decisively in ridding our world of the scourge of pedophilia and indeed all forms of sexual abuse of human beings whoever the perpetrators may be.
SR. CARMEL ANN: Coming to the media, what would you cite as responsible reporting? Should the Catholic media be more prominent? In what way?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: Responsible reporting should be precisely this: responsible. This means accountable and answerable. Yet this begs the question: responsible to what? To the objective truth! Unfortunately it is the truth that is oftentimes twisted, manipulated and distorted in so much of what is served to the masses as reporting, all in the name of ideology, political and economic goals, which causes so much confusion, creates false images of persons and even nations, which can lead to dangerous consequences. The Catholic media can truly become more influential and prominent in the world simply by being faithful to the objective truth of matters, responsible in its presentation of news, as well as faithful to the moral values and principles that guide the Church for the common good of all.
SR. CARMEL ANN: All of us are in definite awe of and reverence for the Holy Father! What was it like working in his close presence at the Prefecture of the Papal Household?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: In my previous assignment in the Vatican, I had the honour and privilege of closely assisting both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI during the private audiences they gave to various bishops and world leaders. The two Popes I have known are prominent holy men, both profound intellectuals, radiating such humility and goodness that felt like tangible traits that accompanied them everywhere they went. Needless to say it was always a joy to greet the Pope and be in his presence.
Archbishop Petar met with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican following his Episcopal Ordination and appointment as Papal Nuncio.
SR. CARMEL ANN: You have been in the diplomatic service of the Holy See for over 17 years. Your first brief training experience was in Senegal, then you began working in Iran and Lithuania, and then at the Secretariat of State at the Vatican, and now as the Pope's Ambassador (and Delegate) in Kuwait and the other Gulf States. What is it like to serve in the foreign diplomatic corps?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: The diplomatic service of the Holy See is unique in the world because it differs from the diplomacy of other countries that are primarily concerned with political and economic issues. My experience thus far has given me an opportunity to experience the universality of the teachings of Christ and the positive influence the Church has in the world. The Holy Seeís efforts in spreading the Good News of the Gospel, the appointment of bishops, encouraging Catholic education, supporting charitable activities, promoting ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue, along with efforts towards maintaining peace and good relations with states and nations, are some of the spheres the diplomacy of the Holy See is actively involved in for the common good of all.
SR. CARMEL ANN: Your affection and sentiments for your ancestral country have firmly been established by your choosing to do your seminary studies in Sarajevo and later to be incardinated in one of the local dioceses. More recently you expressed your desire to receive Episcopal ordination in your home diocese of Mostar. Do you feel a certain obligation to your ancestral country?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: One of the particular aspects of my vocation is that at the early stages, I truly felt called to serve my Croat community as a priest. For this reason I chose to go to Sarajevo to do my theological studies in order to familiarize myself with the local Church, improve my knowledge of the Croatian language and have a firsthand experience of the situation our people found themselves in at the time. It truly was an educational experience which only increased my love towards my brethren and strengthened me in my vocation. Later on, I received another vocation within my vocation to serve the universal Church in the diplomatic service of the Holy See. Even though I am not directly involved in the pastoral life of the Church in Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina, I still maintain close ties with the bishops and priests and through them with the local Church.
SR. CARMEL ANN: How would you describe your first official encounter with the local State authorities when you presented your credentials?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: On April 14th I presented my credentials to His Highness the Emir and it was a solemn occasion indeed. The conversation I had afterwards with the Emir was very cordial and we discussed the issues of the importance of inter-faith dialogue, cooperation amongst religious communities and the overall importance of religion in society. I also informed the Emir of the current situation of the Catholic community in Kuwait which is expanding due to the constant arrival of people in search of employment. At the time of our encounter, the Emir was preparing for his first official visit to the Vatican in order to meet with Pope Benedict XVI on May 6th. One could say then, that the beginning of my mission to Kuwait almost coincided with the Emirís visit to the Vatican, which was to be the first visit of a Kuwaiti Emir to the Holy See and hence a truly historical moment.
First official meeting of Archbishop Petar with His Highness the Emir of Kuwait.
SR. CARMEL ANN: What is the role of a nuncio? Are you likely to face more challenges in an Islamic country and in a mission land which is made up of a large migrant population of Catholic workers?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: The primary role of a Nuncio is to work towards strengthening the bonds of unity which exist between the Holy See and the particular Churches, meaning the local Catholic dioceses that are found in any given country. This entails being a type of liaison office between the Holy See and the local Churches, whereby a Nuncio is sent to assist the local bishops in their mission, maintain close relations with the Episcopal Conference, when necessary search for candidates to the episcopacy, promote good relations with the States they are accredited to with regards to those issues that relate to the mission of the Church. The specific case of the Gulf countries provides a challenge in that the Catholics are a significant minority in the entire region and their numbers are growing. The need for productive and open relations with the Muslim community and State authorities is imperative in order to facilitate a better knowledge of each othersí religion based on mutual respect and recognition as well as to assure the rights and basic needs of Catholics and indeed all Christians in the region.
SR. CARMEL ANN: What are your impressions on meeting the Catholic faithful in Kuwait? What can you say about the spirituality of the people?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: The most pleasant surprise upon arriving here has been seeing the great devotion of the Catholic faithful who are present in huge numbers at the liturgies and who are actively involved in the various activities of the parishes in Kuwait. This shows how important the Church is to the faithful and how they find great spiritual consolation and strength in their parish communities. Their active Christian lives, their unity under Bishop Ballinís pastoral care and their love for one another are an example to everyone, Christian or non-Christian.
SR. CARMEL ANN: Your Grace, have you visited the other Gulf States? You must have received a very warm welcome!
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: I visited Yemen at the beginning of May in order to present my credentials and officially start my mission there. My encounters with the State authorities were very cordial, pleasant and promising. Due to the official nature of my visit I only stayed in the capital Sanaía, yet I did have a chance to visit the local parish community and the Sisters of Mother Theresa (the Missionaries of Charity) who work close to one of the city hospitals. The faithful in Sanaía were also very warm and I presided at a liturgy in their parish community center during my stay. I am still waiting to be called by the other Gulf States in order to present my credentials and I am looking forward to visiting them soon.
SR. CARMEL ANN: His Lordship Bishop Camillo Ballin, MCCJ, has announced that the theme for the forthcoming Third Unity Congress is "The Family", which I feel is a timely response to the many changes that have already begun to affect our families. In what way do you perceive that the family is "under threat"? What role must the Church play in educating families?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: The family is a very important topic and one that would require much more space than is allocated here in order to respond adequately. Briefly though, one can say that there are growing threats to the traditional family established through marriage between one man and one woman, who through procreation produce children and thereby become a family unit. Some of the common threats are the increasing cases of separation and divorce, which lead to single parent families, that leave spouses and children traumatized by marital breakups. Then there are those who opt to live together without ever marrying even in a civil ceremony, and in recent years the growing number of same sex couples that are demanding recognition of their relationships equal to that of the marriage bond. All these and other factors can be considered threats to the traditional family as is taught and promoted by the Church. The Church, as the great family of faithful, gathered together as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, is called to uphold, educate, strengthen and protect the family as an institution established by God for the common good of all.
SR. CARMEL ANN: Given today's world beset with so much materialism and doubt, do you encounter obstacles in your ministry in deepening people's faith in God? What suggestions can you offer to missionaries, evangelizers and priests when encountering such obstacles or situations?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: A materialistic viewpoint of life is at the opposite end of the spiritual realm, while disbelief an ever present difficulty which one can unfortunately often encounter in society. There will always exist in the world obstacles to faith in God, but we who have entrusted our lives to serving God in his Church are specially called first and foremost to provide a good example of Christian living. The best compliment a priest or any religious person can receive from anyone is the recognition that he/she truly believes in God and shows it by his/her example. Though we live in an incredulous and hedonistic world that is rife with human suffering, people still hunger for true spirituality that leads to God and look to those who provide authentic and good witnessing of Christian living in order to quench their thirst for God.
SR. CARMEL ANN: What must be done to encourage vocations? How can we, as religious, attract young men and women today to the Priesthood and the consecrated life?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: Here again one can underline the importance of providing a good example. Young men and women will always be attracted by the witnessing of priests and sisters that are happy with their vocation. The Lord Jesus also told us to pray to the Master of the harvest to send workers out into his harvest. We all have the duty to pray for those who have responded to Godís call and for new vocations as well. A religious vocation is ultimately a special gift from God, which he extends to those that He chooses. Yet we can also help young men and women in the discernment process, so that through prayer, discussion and guidance when necessary, they can make their free choice to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
SR. CARMEL ANN: We have been given to understand that while vocations are steadily growing in Asia, Africa and other so-called missionary lands, religious fervor is probably not as strong in Europe and America. Do you see the evangelized in developing nations now taking on the active role of evangelizers, maybe even in First World Countries?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: The First World countries are in danger of losing faith in God and their Christian identity, mostly due to the consumerist and hedonistic mentality that reigns in their societies. Due to these and other obstacles to faith, the number of vocations in the West has seen a steady decline. The arrival of priests and sisters from the developing nations has helped accommodate the needs of many communities throughout Europe and the Americas, which is a sign of our times. Those nations that experience material wealth and prosperity run the risk of becoming spiritually poor leading to a loss of faith and moral destruction, while the poorer countries of the world still know the value of faith in their lives, the importance of sacrifice and sharing, which gives life true meaning and purpose. It is ironic that in the past missionaries from the West travelled to the East to evangelize and now we have religious men and women from the East going to the West to re-evangelize their brother Christians.
SR. CARMEL ANN: What would you like to accomplish in your lifetime? If you were given another chance to live your life all overÖ what would you do?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: My goal is to fulfill Godís will as it is revealed to me in the circumstances of my life as best as I can. It is a lifelong effort, at times difficult to comprehend, at other times hard to accept, yet ultimately, it is the only thing that can provide true purpose and lasting peace. If I were given another chance to start my life all over, I would certainly study harder, try to gain as much knowledge as humanly possible in the various fields of education, learn more languages, stay consistently physically and mentally active, avoid sweets and enter the seminary earlier in order to become a priest once again.
SR. CARMEL ANN: Finally, the question I am sure every Catholic in Kuwait would like to ask - do you know if the Holy Father will visit Kuwait in the near future?
ARCH. PETAR RAJIC: I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I wouldnít completely exclude the possibility of a Papal pastoral visit in the future. We can certainly pray to the Lord that this may become a reality one day, inshallah!
SR. CARMEL ANN: Thank you, Your Grace, for your valuable time and for sharing with us your thoughts on matters close to your heart. We wish you good health, peace and joy and above all, a most blessed and fruitful ministry here in the Middle East. AD MULTOS ANNOS!