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The Church in Britain is strong, says retiring nuncio

Queen Elizabeth II receives the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Munoz, who presented his Letter of Credence

The papal visit showed that the Church in Britain is strong, the retiring Apostolic Nuncio has said in his last ever speech to the Bishops of England and Wales.

Nuncio Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz was speaking at the bishops’ plenary session in Leeds yesterday.

Archbishop Sainz Muñoz, who is retiring early because of ill health, said that the two main events of 2010, the bishops’ ad limina visit to Rome at the beginning of the year and the papal visit, made it unnecessary for him to make a prepared speech.

He said: “Through these two events you have learned and received more than I could offer over two or three years. The ad limina was very successful as was evident by the way you were received by the dicasteries and the Holy Father.”

The archbishop said the Pope’s visit was a success because of the Holy Father’s humility, “his message and his gentle presence”.

He said: “You will understand that I do not need to make the same points on social teaching and the life of the Church in this country.”

Archbishop Sainz Muñoz explained that he has not been well for the last six months. Earlier this year he suffered a stroke and has since been diagnosed with cancer.

He bade farewell to the bishops: “My illness is very serious and so this is my last meeting with you. The chemotherapy continues and does not allow me to continue my mission here.”

The nuncio is due to leave the country on December 5. He said he did not know when his successor would come but said: “All I can tell you is that he is not from Spain…”

He also expressed his joy at hearing about the papal visit and told the assembled bishops: “When I arrived five and a half years ago, I took my mission from Cardinal Casiroli’s words to me: To make visible the pastoral heart of the Holy Father.”

Finishing his speech, the nuncio said: “I can assure you that the Catholic community of the UK will always be in my heart. Thank you to every one of you. “

Archbishop Sainz Muñoz was appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain by John Paul II in 2004 and has stepped down two years away from official retirement. Under his watch as nuncio, Archbishop Vincent Nichols became the Archbishop of Westminster and Archbishop Bernard Longley was appointed to Birmingham.