Archbishop Michael W. Banach, who grew up in Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Worcester, arrived in Papua New Guinea to begin his term as apostolic nuncio there nearly a month ago. Worcester was his home again for several months before he headed to his South Pacific assignment “to make the Holy Father present” there.
In an e-mail this week Archbishop Banach said he arrived in Tokyo July 11, where he spent two days as a guest of the apostolic nunciature before continuing on to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Once there, he presented his credential letters to the governor-general, Michael Ogio and he has been busy ever since.
He said he told the governor-general some of the ways in which the Catholic Church is contributing to the development of society, especially through education and healthcare. He said he also cited Blessed Peter To Rot, a Papua New Guinea catechist beatified by Pope John Paul II, as “a perennial example and gift for the country.”
“In his response, the governor-general praised the work of Catholic missionaries and of the Church,” and said his country is a better place because of it, Archbishop Banach reported.
Pope Benedict XVI named Archbishop Banach an apostolic nuncio on Feb. 22. But it was Pope Francis who gave him his assignment to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. He had been the Vatican’s representative to several international agencies based in Vienna.
There are four archdioceses and 15 dioceses in Papua, and one archdiocese and two dioceses in the Solomon Islands, the new nuncio said in an interview with The Catholic Free Press while he was in Worcester between assignments.
His job will be to visit the dioceses, get to know the bishops and the experiences of the Church, he said. Nuncios usually serve four to five years in a country before becoming nuncio in another country, he said.
While at home he celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at Our Lady of Czestochowa – on Mother’s Day – with family and friends.
“It’s very different,” he said. “You come back as a bishop. People are excited. People are curious. … I’m coming to realize being chosen a bishop is a gift to the person and a gift to the Church.”
While visiting, he was in demand. “A lot of the requests are liturgical requests; they want the bishop at a ceremony; prayer requests. It’s very much an acknowledgment that the bishop is very much part of the Church. And they want that presence of the Church in their lives. … It’s not necessarily for you, but for whom and what you represent,” he noted.
After his Mass of Thanksgiving, Archbishop Banach visited friends and seminary classmates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In mid-June he went to Rome for meetings to prepare for his arrival in Papua and for a Year of Faith gathering with other nuncios.
“It’s been a grace-filled time to be able to ease into being a bishop, to be able to reflect on what has happened to me. … It means you have to pray a lot more,” he said.
He anticipated that his new responsibility would be heavier. “Bishops are going to be coming to me looking for solutions to their problems,” he said.
Prayer is his helpmate. “If we are going to preach Christ, we have to have a familiarity with Christ … and, as a result, the need to pray. … I’m a Jesuit at heart – the Spiritual Exercises, contemplation,” he said.
His appreciation for the Society of Jesus shows in his coat of arms, which incorporates a red Jesuit IHS symbol that stands for Christ. Jesuits educated the archbishop at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
The star in his coat of arms symbolizes the Virgin Mary, another part of his spirituality, Archbishop Banach said. The wings are reminiscent of the Archangel Michael, whose name he bears. The wings could also represent the Polish eagle of his heritage, he said.
Another way to read the coat of arms, from the bottom up, is that when the Holy Spirit embraces Mary, she gives birth to Christ, he said. He said that’s the evangelizing mission of the Church and bishops.
The red and blue correspond to the Worcester Diocese’s coat of arms, to recall his diocese of origin, he explained. The hat and tassels are those used to designate an archbishop.
Archbishop Banach’s motto, “humanitate et caritate” (with humanity and charity), is taken from Vatican Council II documents. With greater humanity and charity
“we can come to know each other better and therefore preach the Gospel more effectively,” he said.
“It’s something I’m convinced of deeply,” he said. “I think the Church is called to dialogue. … It might be …others are not going to accept our point of view, but that takes nothing away from our obligation to enter into that dialogue.”
His work in Vienna brought the importance of dialogue into focus. “You’re sitting around the table with other people, many of whom do not share your viewpoint. … There’s a lot of animosity out there against the Church, in these international organizations. I think you see that all over; the Church does have that prophetic voice,” he said.
Being named to Papua was “an exciting surprise,” he said.
“From what I’ve been told the Church is very active in Papua and Solomon Islands,” he said before he left.
“Poverty’s a big thing. There’s a lot of movement from the villages to the cities,” which can’t handle the numbers, leaving some unemployed, he said.
He said most of the population is Christian and the Church is on the front lines, providing shelters, medical care and education. Now that he is on the ground there, he too is on the front line.