Who is Archbishop Peña?

Pope Francis has finally named a new deputy for the powerful Vatican Secretariat of State. He had rendered the post vacant in late June when he gave a red hat to the former occupant, Angelo Becciu, and named him prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The longer the post remained vacant, the hotter the speculation became that he was preparing to name a major player. Instead, the nomination of Archbishop Edgar Robinson Peña Parra (pictured below) to the post seems to be a safe play. Still, Archbishop Peña will be someone to watch. If he wasn’t an influential figure in the Vatican before last week, he is certain to be one now, even if he works quietly.

Peña is a 58-year-old native of Venezuela and a career diplomat who has served in several trouble spots and held several other sensitive billets. His most recent posting was to Mozambique, where he took over the nunciature in the midst of political violence that included assassinations and a low-level insurgency conducted by the militant wing of the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo).

Before that, Archbishop Peña had been apostolic nuncio to Pakistan. Among the places Peña had a desk early in his career are Kenya, Mexico, Honduras and the Balkans. He is a gifted linguist, speaking Italian, English, French, Portuguese and Serbo-Croatian, as well as Spanish. Polyglots are a dime a dozen in the diplomatic service, though: it’s a minimum qualification for a diplomatic career.

Having a Venezuelan native close by might also be something Pope Francis wanted in view of his preoccupation with the country. Hence the interest the Vatican’s institutional diplomatic apparatus, led by the Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has taken in the nation, which is said to be on the brink of total social collapse. Archbishop Peña is also a canon lawyer by training who has written on human rights – the respect of which is a keystone of Vatican diplomacy and one of the motifs of Pope Francis’s advocacy on the world stage.

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