ROME – After months of leaving the “sostituto,” or deputy, post at the Vatican Secretariat of State vacant, Pope Francis Wednesday tapped Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra for the position – a man who has an extensive background in areas close to the pope’s heart, including advocating for human rights.
Born in Maracaibo, Venezuela in 1960, Peña Parra since 2015 has served as the pope’s ambassador, called a nuncio, to Mozambique. Prior to that, he was the papal envoy to Pakistan.
Francis has shown strong support for both Venezuela and Pakistan, giving Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi a red cardinal’s hat during the June 28 consistory. He also holds frequent meetings with the leadership of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference to address the nation’s ongoing political and humanitarian crisis.
Peña Parra has been involved in the Holy See’s diplomatic service since 1993, collaborating with papal representatives in Kenya, the former Yugoslavia, the office of the United Nations in Geneva and in the nunciatures of South Africa, Honduras and Mexico before being tapped as a papal envoy himself.
Also holding a degree in canon law, Peña Parra will work directly with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who himself served as papal nuncio to Venezuela from 2009 until his appointment as Vatican Secretary of State in 2013.
Peña Parra’s appointment, then, is a sign of the pope’s continued attention to areas of the world where a dicey political situation has often led to the blatant disregard for basic human rights.
He will officially step into the new position Oct. 15, meaning he will likely not participate in Francis’s trip to Ireland Aug. 25-26 for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, and will also likely miss the pope’s visit to the Baltic nations Sept. 22-25.
Peña Parra will take over for Italian Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who held the position of “sostituto” from 2011 until his nomination as cardinal and his appointment as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints in June.
The “sostituto” plays a prominent role in the Secretariat of State, overseeing the first section of the body, dedicated to “general affairs.” In practice, the “sostituto” acts as a coordinating link between the pope and the secretary of state, making him one of the closest papal aides.
In his new role, Peña Parra will be tasked with carrying forward his work while also navigating any changes to the secretariat made as part of Francis’s ongoing reform of the Roman Curia.
The secretariat of state has already changed shape under Francis, who in November 2017 established a third section dedicated to managing papal ambassadors and other diplomatic personnel.
If further changes are made, they will likely come when Francis’s new constitution on the curia, Praedicate Evangelium, is published. The document is currently being revised and could come in a matter of months.