"Looking after our Mother Church": meeting with Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre

By: Cécile Leca/ lpj.org - Published: May 17 Tue, 2022

"Looking after our Mother Church": meeting with Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre Available in the following languages:

JERUSALEM - From May 9th to May 14th, the Holy Land received the visit of His Eminence Fernando Filoni, Cardinal-Bishop and Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem since 2019. The opportunity for lpj.org to present the main figure of this order, which is the first and essential support of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Cardinal Filoni was born on April 15th, 1946, in Manduria, Italy. He was ordained a priest on July 3rd, 1970, and graduated in Canon Law, Philosophy, and Science and Techniques of Public Opinion. He then joined the ranks of Vatican diplomacy, and, in 1981, he carried out a first three-year mission in Sri Lanka before occupying various posts, notably in Iran (1983-1985), at the Secretary of State in Rome, in Brazil, and then in the Philippines.

Consecrated a bishop on March 19th, 2002, by Pope John Paul II, he was then appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan - a position he held during the beginning of the Iraq war (2003-2011). For some time, he even was the only resident diplomatic representative in Baghdad. Appointed to the Philippines in 2006, he was recalled to Rome by Pope Benedict XVI to hold various positions in the Curia. Appointed Cardinal-deacon on February 18th, 2012, Pope Francis elevated him to the rank of Cardinal-Bishop on June 26th, 2018.

He was appointed Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem by Pope Francis on December 8th, 2019.

  • What can you tell us about your duties as Grand Master of the Order? What are your ties to the Latin Patriarchate?

The Order of the Holy Sepulchre is an institution that was refounded by Pope Pius IX a little over 170 years ago; its purpose is to support the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Christians of the Holy Land. In other words, it is an institution that invites Christians from all over the world to look after our Mother Church, especially through financial donations. It is headed by a Grand Master, who at first was the Pope himself; it was only under Pius XII that the responsibility was entrusted to a cardinal, when the Order began to have many members.

This Order is first and foremost a lay Order; everything related to organization and administration is managed by non-ecclesiastical members, men and women - volunteers, not salaried - who have a family life and are involved in society through their work. As Grand Master, I must therefore be careful never to substitute myself for this lay reality, but to accompany it spiritually. My responsibility concerns the whole institution, of course, which I seek to enliven by infusing it with a deep spirituality rooted in the Gospel; as well as with an ecclesiological position, because the Order is a living reality in the Church.

  • What experiences have your diplomatic missions, especially during your various stays in Iraq, brought you?

An experience above all of service. As clergymen, we are not like lay diplomats who work for the interests of their countries. Our job is to support the local Churches. Of course, we also work to maintain relations of peace and understanding with other religions, with States and with the organizations present in the countries to which we are sent; but our first and most important task is to provide assistance to the Churches in those countries and to be an integral part of the life of the people with whom we live. We must respect their culture and reality, their ways of living and organizing, their rules and governments, even if we find them difficult to understand. When I was in Iraq, during the 2003 war, people thanked me for staying with them, for sharing their suffering and pain, without judging or criticizing the situation or the management of the country. And through me, because of my function as a representative of the Holy See, they were thanking the entire Catholic Church. It is thanks to this experience that I have better understood the importance of service and of listening to others.

It was also during my diplomatic missions, especially the one in China (where I spent more than eight years, after the Deng Xiaoping era), that I was able to discover a faith and a generosity without limits. It put into perspective the vision I previously had... whether in my home country or in myself.

  • As a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue since 2012, what can you tell us about the importance of this subject today?

Interreligious dialogue, in my opinion, is the act of being without judgment, and in the knowledge and understanding of the other. If we study the history, the problems, and the sufferings of our interlocutors, whether they are non-believers, Muslims, Jews or Christians of another rite, then dialogue becomes possible. If, on the other hand, we adopt an attitude of judgment, trouble begins.

Of course, this openness must be reciprocal. If the other does not have it, dialogue will not be possible... for a while. For God's time is not our time! It is by being patient and understanding that we will be able to reach the heart of the other. 

  • We are very glad to welcome you for the first time in the Holy Land since your appointment as Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Do you intend to come more regularly, now that the crisis of COVID-19 seems to be finally over?

Concrete contact is essential to give momentum to the Order. Pilgrimages to the Holy Land are an integral part of our institution... So, God willing, I sincerely hope to be able to visit you more regularly!

Interview conducted in Jerusalem