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Pope Francis has included three apostolic nuncios — ambassadors of the Holy See — in his list of cardinals he will create during the consistory of September 30, 2023. One of the two active nuncios is Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig of Switzerland. At 76, he is the papal nuncio to Italy. He was appointed in 2017 by the Argentine Pontiff, who had collaborated with him in Buenos Aires. In his 27 years as apostolic nuncio, the diplomat has worked with three popes.
Vocation and studies
Emil Paul Tscherrig was born in Unterems, in the Upper Valais region of German-speaking Switzerland, on February 3, 1947. His vocation to the priesthood was inspired by an uncle who was a priest, although as a student he had great difficulty in making this choice. It was during his military service that he decided that, even if it came to obeying orders, he wanted to serve “the greatest” leader. On April 11, 1974, he received ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Sion.
He asked his bishop to allow him to study the moral issues that troubled his generation, but was eventually sent to study for a doctorate in canon law at Rome’s Gregorian University. He then entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1978. His first assignment was as secretary at a nunciature in Uganda and Bangladesh. From 1985 to 1996, he helped prepare Pope John Paul II’s international travels.
First assignments as nuncio
The diplomat received his first post as nuncio in Burundi in 1996, and was consecrated bishop on June 27 of the same year. He was then appointed to the Caribbean in 2000, and to South Korea and Mongolia in 2004. As nuncio to Scandinavia from 2008 to 2012, he had to deal with the 2011 attack in Oslo, Norway, which killed 92 people.
In 2012, Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Tscherrig nuncio to Argentina, where he forged close ties with the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He described the future 266th Pope as “endowed with great goodness, great depth of thought and great courage.” After the 2013 conclave, at the start of the pontificate, Nuncio Tscherrig was involved in the rapprochement between Argentine President Kirchner and the newly-elected Pope Francis.
Nuncio to Italy
As proof of his esteem and confidence, Pope Francis entrusted the archbishop with the strategic position of nuncio to Italy and San Marino in 2017. It’s a noteworthy appointment, since it put an end to the “Italian exception.” For the first time since 1929, a nuncio representing the Vatican State in Italy was not a native of that country. As nuncio, Tscherrig has the delicate task of working on the reform of Italian dioceses. This implies reducing their high number (227) by merging them.
The cardinal-designate is renowned for his pastoral sense. He has not hestitated to plead the cause of migrants in Italy, which has an aging population, and has also lamented Europe’s lack of partnership with Africa. He regularly grants interviews to the press — unlike his more silent fellow nuncios.
With Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Emil Paul Tscherrig will be the second Swiss cardinal elector in the event of a conclave.