ANS – Vatican City – On Thursday, May 18, 2023, Pope Francis appointed Salesian Bishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai as Apostolic Nuncio to Libya. Appointed as Nuncio in Malta on Oct. 24, 2022, the 73-year-old Salesian prelate will now have the task of representing the Pontiff’s voice in Libya as well, where the post had been vacant since April 30, 2022, when the resignation of the previous Nuncio, Bishop Alessandro d’Errico, was accepted. The Nuncio in Malta has been systematically accredited in Libya since 1995.
Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai is an atypical nuncio, having not followed the traditional diplomatic curriculum. A Salesian, while nuncios are traditionally called by diocesan clergy, he was born in 1950 in Hong Kong and took his religious vows in 1975 for the “Mary Help of Christians” Province (CIN) comprising Salesian presences in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taïwan.
Ordained a priest in 1982, he received a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of London and a doctorate in Theology from the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome; he was responsible for translating the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Chinese, and served as Professor of Theology at Holy Spirit Seminary in Hong Kong.
He served as Vicar of CIN from 1995 to 2001 and as Provincial from 2001 to 2006.
He became a member of the International Theological Commission in 2004, and was thus noticed by then Cardinal Ratzinger, who later as Pope Benedict XVI ordained him bishop in 2010, and assigned him to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples – the Vatican body that until last June was overseeing mission lands – in which Msgr. Hon Tai-Fai worked as Secretary, serving first Cardinal Ivan Dias and then Cardinal Fernando Filoni.
In 2012, he was appointed a member of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, and in the same year, he was appointed a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
In 2016, Archbishop Hon Tai-Fai served as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Agana in the island state of Guam, and the following year he was appointed apostolic nuncio to Greece, his first assignment in the diplomatic service. This past year he was also one of the organizers of Pope Francis’ visit to Greece (December 2021).
The situation in Libya, where the Salesian Hon Tai-Fai will now be called to work as the Pontiff’s first diplomatic representative, has been marked in recent times by the presence of vast migratory flows, with many migrants falling victim to extreme situations, such as deprivation of liberty and mistreatment, and then attempting a sea crossing to Europe with uncertain and too often fatal outcomes.
Libya is also a testing land for the few Christians who live there: about 300 permanent residents, to which must be added about 40,000 posted workers and a migrant population that is difficult to estimate. Pope Francis recently announced that the Catholic Church wishes to recognize as martyrs the 21 Christians – mostly Copts from Egypt – killed in Libya in 2015.
Despite a Christian presence that dates back to antiquity and predates the arrival of Islam, there are no dioceses in Libya and Catholicism is nevertheless still associated with the country’s colonial past. There are, however, three apostolic vicariates (Tripoli, Benghazi, Derna) and one apostolic prefecture (Misrata), and two churches: one in Tripoli, the other in Benghazi.