MEETING - Father Richard Gyhra, a native of St. Anthony Parish in Steinauer and a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, met Pope Benedict XVI in March. Father Gyhra has been assigned to be secretary of the apostolic nuncio in the Dominican Republic. (Courtesy photo)
LINCOLN (SNR) - Father Richard Gyhra of the Diocese of Lincoln has been appointed secretary to the apostolic nuncio in the Dominican Republic. He will assume this position on April 14, making him the third priest of the Lincoln Diocese to assume a diplomatic role on behalf of the Holy See.
The word “nuncio” is derived from the Latin word for “envoy.” Each papal nuncio – typically an archbishop -- is a permanent diplomatic representative of the Holy See, who is sent to one of the 178 countries with which the Vatican has formal diplomatic relations. A nuncio is equivalent to an ambassador.
The nuncio serves as the liaison between the Holy See and the Roman Catholic diocesan episcopate in the nation or region to which he is assigned. One nuncio, Celestino Migliore of Italy, is not assigned to a particular country or region, but serves as permanent observer to the United Nations.
Because the Church is worldwide, Father Gyhra explained, “The Holy Father needs eyes and ears – helping hands if you will – to continue his mission as the head of the Church.”
Thus, diplomatic corps were created over the centuries in order to enable the Holy See to relate to other countries and ensure that the Gospel is preached. An apostolic nuncio is also responsible for observing bishops conference meetings, informing the Holy See of relevant political developments and screening priests who have been suggested as candidates for episcopacy (that is, potential bishops).
Every three years, names of priests are suggested to the Holy See as potential bishops. The nuncio is responsible for building a dossier for each candidate, surveying trustworthy people who know the priest, etc.
As secretary to Bishop Józef Wesolowski, the apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Father Gyhra will assist in all the diplomatic and ecclesiastical duties, with the help of a staff of priests. His assignment should last anywhere from two to three years, and then he will likely be moved to a different nation in the same capacity.
Father Gyhra initially went to Rome in 2005 to study moral theology. As he finished his license (which is equivalent to earning a Masters Degree at a U.S. university), Father Gyhra was asked to enter the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, which is dedicated to training priests to serve in the diplomatic corps and the Secretariat of State of the Holy See.
“I had no idea such a thing existed,” he remembered with a smile. “To me, it was a great shock, not knowing fully at that point what it all entailed – not having any prior experience in that realm or in that aspect of the life of the Church.” He has spent the last two years preparing for this assignment at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. It was quite the whirlwind of education. Essentially, he earned a doctorate, studied Canon Law and learned Spanish.
“When you are a student there, it is like taking several programs at once,” Father Gyhra said.
On March 1, he endured a grueling comprehensive final exam, during which he was peppered with questions from some of his professors and an assessor from the Secretariat of State… in Italian, of course.
Father Gyhra succeeded and was given his assignment to the Dominican Republic on March 3. He and three of his fellow graduates were then granted a private audience with the Holy Father.
Pope Benedict XVI responded warmly when he learned that Father Gyhra came from the Diocese of Lincoln.
“He said, ‘Ah, Bishop Bruskewitz…You are blessed to have learned from one of the best,’” said Father Gyhra.
While he is eager to begin his work in Santa Domingo, Father Gyhra admitted that serving the Holy See in diplomacy was not part of his vision for his vocation to the priesthood.
“All I wanted to do was become a parish priest, and I still do,” he said. “But if you are asked to do other things, you try to be faithful to the will of your superiors... this is kind of a vocation within a vocation.”
In the Dominican Republic, he will, of course, celebrate Mass daily, helping out at parishes near his office and home. He will also be able to provide other priestly ministries, such as hearing confessions.
Father Gyhra is grateful for this opportunity to learn another aspect of the Church.
“I owe the bishop and the Diocese of Lincoln a tremendous debt of gratitude,” Father Gyhra said. “The opportunity to be in Rome and to be asked to do this is a very humbling thing.”