Priests are “first and foremost bridge builders”: Nigerian-born Permanent Observer to UN

Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, representative of the Holy See to the European Office of the United Nations and Specialized Institutions in Geneva. Credit: CNA Deutsch/EWTN

The representative of the Holy See to the European Office of the United Nations and Specialized Institutions in Geneva, Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, has underscored the main role of Catholic Priests saying they are “first and foremost bridge builders”.

In a Wednesday, March 16 interview with ACI Africa sister news service, Catholic News Agency (CNA) Deutsch, Archbishop Nwachukwu also talked about the Russia-Ukraine conflict, his experience of the Biafra war in his native country, and how the UN can achieve sustainable peace in areas of conflict.

“We are primarily Priests before being diplomats, and as Priests, we are bridge builders,” Archbishop Nwachukwu said.

Making reference to his role as the Permanent Observer to the UN, the Nigerian-born diplomat said, “We represent the Pope, and the Pope represents Christ; he is the successor of Peter, and Christ is presented as a High Priest.”

Credit: CNA Deutsch/EWTN


“The High Priest is a bridge builder; and that is our work as diplomats and as Priests. We are supposed to be first and foremost bridge builders carrying on with the mission of Jesus Christ, of building bridges between God and humanity,” said the Catholic Archbishop who was appointed the Holy Permanent Observer to the UN in December 2021.

He continued, “As Priests, as other Christs among our people, we are supposed to be Pontifical, and that is also what it means by representing the Pope, who is now the supreme pontiff; we are supposed to be Pontifical in our mission, that is, we are supposed to be bridge builders. A diplomat is essentially a bridge builder.”

The Nigerian Diplomat who is also serving at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and represents the Holy See Representative at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) further said that a Permanent Observer to the UN “goes to facilitate peaceful relationships between governments and between nations.”

“That should not surprise us because if you do not have people that facilitate good relations between nations, the danger will be that of having people pursuing their own personal interests, which often conflict with one another,” Archbishop Nwachukwu the representative of the Holy See to the European Office of the UN told CNA Deutsch March 16.

He noted that the “Priest is essentially a diplomat first and foremost in searching for a good relationship between human beings and God. But as Priests, diplomats, we also carry that further to the forum of nations, bringing to this forum what we are trained to be, what we are ordained to be, and that is pontifical meaning bridge builders.”

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“Being a Priest and being a diplomat are not contradictory,” Archbishop Nwachukwu further said, and explained, “Being a Priest and being a diplomat could actually be complimentary. They complete one another. Of course, we have to understand being a diplomat in the right sense. Diplomacy does not mean having a double tongue, as people think from the word, for example, duplex or duplicate.”

“We know that the original word diploma means a folded document, and that means a certificate. So, we are supposed to be people that are certified, that carry the certificate given to us by the supreme pontiff to become bridge builders in his name and through him in the name of Jesus Christ,” the native of Africa’s most populous nation explained. 

Credit: CNA Deutsch/EWTN

In the March 16 interview, the 61-year-old diplomat also reflected on the Russia-Ukraine conflict saying, “We are all praying for Ukraine, because the UN is a platform, it is a forum for dialogue and a meeting place for the parties involved in the conflicts, and also a meeting place of the allies of both parties involved in the conflict. We cannot reach durable peace, lasting peace without dialogue.”

The Archbishop who doubles as a representative of the Holy Father in various Caribbean Island nations, including Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Bahamas, Suriname, and Belize, among others, said, “Peace that is imposed is only war that is postponed, while peace that is agreed, peace that is reached through dialogue, is lasting peace.”


“The UN has an important role to play in contributing to the peace we are all looking for. By providing a forum for dialogue, a forum for exchanges between the two parties involved, the United Nations is already playing a very important role,” he added.

In the March 16 interview, the Nigerian Diplomat said he brings a rich experience to the UN owing to his witness of the Biafra war in Nigeria.

“I think I come to the United Nations with a baggage from experiences, first from the point of view of my own personal experience, my own personal life, and then experiences that I have gathered serving as a diplomat of the Holy See,” he said.

The Catholic Archbishop further said, “I was only seven years old when I was caught up in the midst of a civil conflict, one of the most horrible, horrendous civil conflicts of the last century. This was in 1967, the outbreak of the Nigeria Biafra Civil War.”

Credit: CNA Deutsch/EWTN

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“I lost two of my own sisters. So, I knew right from a very early age what it means to pass through a situation of war. I know what it means to experience hunger. I know what it means to be an internally displaced person. So, I know the experience of being a refugee,” Archbishop Nwachukwu recounted.

He continued, “I know the experience of living away from my home. I lost my father and mother for a long period. We were five and we were under my eldest brother, who was only 13. And we had to survive. So, I know what it means to go through suffering.”

“I lost years of education, three years from 1967 to 1970. And therefore, when I'm coming to the United Nations, I know what it means to experience war, not at the warfront, but as a victim, a victim that is innocent,” the Catholic Archbishop told CNA Deutsch March 16.

He continued, “I know what it means to experience anger, illness without the presence of any medication. I know what it means to feel one has been abandoned by the rest of humanity. Or what it means to feel one has been discriminated against in one's own nation.”

“So, I bring all this baggage of experiences to my current work. When a person is going to talk to me about discrimination, about violence, about injustice, I think I've experienced them all in my own skin,” the representative of the Holy See to the European Office of the UN and Specialized Institutions in Geneva said.

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.