By Dominic Winter
WASHINGTON, D.C. (SNR) – Since Aug. 28, Father Christopher Goodwin has worked as a local secretary at the Apostolic Nunciature under the leadership of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the personal representative of Pope Francis in the United States.
Due to a request for assistance from the nuncio to Bishop James Conley, Father Goodwin left his parishes in Weston and Touhy, posts he had served four years, and went to Washington. As secretary, he assists the nuncio with correspondence passing between United States bishops and the Holy See.
Father Goodwin said he finds the work completely different from the regular parish work he performed since his ordination in 2004.
He lives in the nunciature with six other priests and the nuncio. Since the nunciature is technically Vatican territory, the priest-residents follow a European schedule. Father Goodwin often concelebrates 7:30 a.m. Mass with the nuncio before a casual breakfast, with work beginning at 8:30 or 9. Generally, he said, he focuses on his office work until the large lunch in community at 1 p.m., followed by a reposo or break. Work resumes around 2:30 until supper at 7 p.m. Father Goodwin uses his free evenings for holy hours and spiritual reading: welcome relaxation from the busy parish life he is used to.
“The priestly life here is a lot different in the particulars,” he said. “When I was pastor of two parishes and superintendent of a grade school, I wore lots of different hats, just trying to go from one thing to the next. I like the extra time to develop the spiritual life.”
Archbishop Viganò, as the number-one representative of the pope to the U.S., proclaims the pope’s presence to the nation. As such, he stays very busy with welcoming new bishops as he did in 2012 when Bishop James Conley was installed in Lincoln, addressing the faithful in the pope’s name, acting as the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., and corresponding with all the bishops of the country. For example, if a bishop had a liturgical question for the Holy See, the letter would go through the nuncio, who would either pass it on to the Congregation for Divine Worship, or try to answer the question himself, based on past correspondence with Rome. Father Goodwin and the other priests are, as he said, “direct assistants of the nuncio, to do what he needs us to do to accomplish his service to the Holy Father and the Universal Church,” as it is with assistants of any high Church officer.
“We do what we do in his name, as extensions of his person,” he said. “You could see this office as being one person.”
Father Goodwin said he enjoys the fraternity he experiences. He thinks of the nuncio as a spiritual father, a man imbued with a deep relationship with the Lord and investment in the Church. He feels he can get support from any of the nuncio’s team. The Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, who cook the meals and maintain the chapel, also contribute their wonderful spirituality. Some sisters of that same order serve at the Bonacum House for retired priests in Lincoln, and one of the sisters in the nunciature, Sr. Chiara, is from Hastings.
When Bishop Conley contacted Father Goodwin in the spring about his new assignment, Father Goodwin was very surprised, since the job came out of the blue. No priest from the diocese has served the nuncio before. At the time, he was working toward a degree in educational administration and handling his regular parish duties. But once the bishop explained it and Father had prayed about it, he said he became excited for God’s plan in the new adventure.
“We can plan, and God can laugh,” he said. “When I gave my obedience to the bishop, I’ve never been let down.”
Father Goodwin expects to enjoy his prospective five years at the nunciature: the life in the city, the different pace and the focus of the work.
Despite his contact with higher-ranking Church officials, Father Goodwin doesn’t feel in any position to boast. He recalls Pope Gregory the Great’s title “Servant of the Servants of God” and Pope Francis’s humble request for the people to pray for him after his election. He said God may want important works of salvation to come as much from a Nebraska layman as from himself.
“Every member of the Church is part of the Mystical Body of Christ,” he said. “Even though every one of us who makes up the Church is an imperfect person, if each of us does as faithfully as we can what the Holy Spirit calls us to do, the Church can be the vehicle of grace and salvation for the world.”