Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, who has been the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches for less than a year, received the cardinal’s biretta in this consistory. This is a natural choice on the part of Pope Francis, given the position the former Italian nuncio now occupies. Nevertheless, it takes on a special character in the current context, because the future cardinal was nuncio to Belarus and Ukraine.
Shortly after midday on July 9, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti‘s phone rang off the hook. The Pope had just announced the list of new cardinals, and his name was on it. The former nuncio, who had not watched the Pontiff’s announcements after the Angelus, naively associated the dozens of congratulatory messages with the feast of his patron saint, which he guessed he must have forgotten.
“Then I understood,” he told Vatican News. “Above all, I experience it as a responsibility that I find particularly significant, but also weighty, because the scarlet color of the cardinalate is not a moment of glory, it’s the scarlet of blood.”
Prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches
The Italian’s name in the list of new cardinals was no surprise, however. At 67, the former nuncio became the new prefect of the dicastery for the Eastern Churches in November 2022. He replaced Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who had been in the post since 2007. In this capacity, the native of Verona was to receive the cardinal’s biretta — as was the case for his predecessors — as his office places him de facto in contact with the bishops and patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
In Rome, his dicastery administers and coordinates the life of these Churches, which he is aware are “today reduced to very few people” due to the massive exodus of Christians in recent decades.
While not surprising, the announcement of his cardinalate came at a time of war in Ukraine. Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti is a specialist in Eastern Europe and the country invaded by Russia. He was named Apostolic Nuncio to Belarus in 2011, and then to Ukraine in 2015. He then moved to Great Britain in 2020. His short stint there was marked by the death of the Queen of England on September 8, 2022.
“Our diplomacy is not a diplomacy of calculations”
In June 2023, he visited Belarus, where he was officially sent by the Pope to preside over a religious ceremony. However, Pope Francis did not turn to the former diplomat to carry out a mission of peace in the region. In a terse statement from his dicastery, he clearly denied having been chosen by the Pope for this purpose, while the Italian press speculated that he might go to Moscow. In the end, it was the Cardinal Archbishop of Bologna, Matteo Zuppi, who flew to Kiev, Moscow, Washington, and Beijing over the summer.
On the conflict ravaging the Ukraine, Archbishop Gugerotti holds to the Holy See’s line, that is, the use of diplomacy seeking to avoid offending Russia in order to safeguard dialogue and hope for peace. “Our diplomacy is not a diplomacy of calculations, it’s a diplomacy of possible utopias,” he told Vatican News.
He also expressed his wish to get past simplistic readings of this conflict. “I was the nuncio in Belarus, in Ukraine, and also in Georgia where Russian tanks entered… What I can say is that behind all this there is a complexity of causes of which we Westerners are often totally ignorant.”
Background and priestly ministry
Born in Verona on October 7, 1955, he was ordained a priest in 1982, studied eastern languages and literature, then taught at various universities — in Venice, Padua, and Rome, at the Gregorian and at the Pontifical Oriental Institute. As early as 1985, he joined the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, becoming its under-secretary in 1997. He was also a consultant to the Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations Office from 1990 to 2001. The Italian speaks English, French, and Russian, as well as Latin, Greek, Armenian (classical and modern), and Persian.