Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - While home in Nebraska for Christmas vacation, Msgr. Richard Gyhra of the Diocese of Lincoln received surprising news: He has been appointed to the Secretariat of State of the Holy See and will take up his new position in Rome Feb. 6.
Previously, Msgr. Gyhra had been secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in the Dominican Republic. He moved there directly after completing his formal studies at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in March 2010.
There, Msgr. Gyhra worked with the local dioceses as a liaison between them and the Holy See. One of the most crucial responsibilities he had was identifying priests to recommend to the Holy Father as potential new bishops.
In 2013, Msgr. Gyhra was assigned to the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva.
“My assignment to Geneva came as a surprise insofar as I assumed at the time that I would continue working in bilateral diplomacy,” he said.
He explained that bilateral diplomacy is focused exclusively on issues between the local government and the local Catholic Church. His position in Geneva is multilateral diplomacy, which is quite different.
“In multilateral diplomacy, the involvement includes all the countries of the world which are Members of the United Nations and other international organizations, such as the Red Cross,” Msgr. Gyhra said.
Now he will be doing similar work at the Secretariat of State, led by Pietro Cardinal Parolin. There are two main departments in this office. The first deals with general affairs, such as administrative issues, correspondence of the pope, translating papal documents, and personnel. The second oversees all diplomatic relations, including bilateral and multilateral.
With all his experience in both forms of diplomacy, Msgr. Gyhra will be working in this second department.
He said his work, “will most likely focus on some area of international relations, particularly the relationship of the Holy See with the United Nations.”
Msgr. Gyhra is confident that the Lord has prepared him for whatever tasks Cardinal Parolin needs him to accomplish.
“I think that the experience from my time in Geneva will be put to good use in the Secretariat of State,” he said.
He noted that being based in Geneva has introduced him to “a wide spectrum of areas of international concern.” These have included disarmament, humanitarian assistance, human rights, intellectual property issues, migrant and immigration issues, refugee assistance and international trade.
“The experience has given me a ‘hands-on’ understanding of the mechanisms of these various organizations,” Msgr. Gyhra said.
A native Nebraskan who grew up on a farm near Pawnee City, Msgr. Gyhra really had no plans to enter into the diplomatic service of the Holy See when he became a priest. In fact, he didn’t even pay much attention to politics or diplomacy before he was asked to enter the diplomatic service.
“Now that I have been involved in such work for a number of years, I see the amount of good that can be accomplished through diplomatic activity,” he said.
The Holy See has diplomatic relations with more than 180 countries, as well as dozens of international organizations. Obviously, a good number of priests, religious and laypersons are required to facilitate these diplomatic relations.
Though he describes the Vatican’s diplomatic activity as “discreet” and “low profile,” Msgr. Gyhra would like Catholics in Nebraska and in the U.S. to understand the ultimate goal of these international relationships.
“We have over a billion brothers and sisters in the Church, professing the same faith in the same Christ, who are living in circumstances very different from our own,” he said. “Some of them suffer great religious persecution, extreme poverty, and the like.”
He continued, “The Church is very engaged in its diplomatic activity to not only protect and assist Catholics, but all those who suffer unjust persecution and lack basic human needs.”
Msgr. Gyhra will live at the Villa Stritch in Rome, a residence owned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“This will be a very welcome home for me since I already know many of the priests there, in particular, Msgr. Tom Fucinaro of our diocese, who is also the director of the Villa Stritch,” he said. Msgr. Fucinaro is an official in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome.
Msgr. Gyhra also anticipates having more contact with the Lincoln seminarians and priests who are studying in Rome, such as Father Matthew Rolling and Father James Morin.
“I am looking forward to a new style and pace of work in the Secretariat of State, and also to having new experiences with that work, all of which will undoubtedly provide me with a deeper understanding of how the Holy See functions and interacts with other States,” Msgr. Gyhra said.
He added that the Holy See is very grateful to Bishop Conley and the Diocese of Lincoln for its tradition of “loaning” its priests like him to serve the universal Church.
“This generosity is possible in large part because the laity of the diocese are very generous and because of the good number of priestly vocations that we are blessed to have, which is the fruit of the many prayers and sacrifices of the good lay faithful,” Msgr. Gyhra noted. “This recognition on the part of the Holy See is something which all people of the diocese should be proud to be a part of.”