Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's delegate to the United States, has undergone major lung surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and remains critically ill, a high-ranking church source said. Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien has asked religious and laity to pray for Sambi's recovery.

Sambi, whose title is apostolic nuncio, was one of Pope Benedict XVI's first major appointees. He has served as the papal representative to the U.S. since 2006 and had planned to return to Rome before he fell ill. He was in line to be named a cardinal, the highest rank in the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy.

His career as a church diplomat spans more than 40 years and included two stints In Israel and one in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country. In his U.S. role, Sambi has been pivotal in making recommendations for many of those elevated to bishop, including O'Brien. Most of those men are relatively young for their posts and they could have a long-term impact on leadership in the American church.

Sambi participated in the November 2006 dedication of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption, the nation's first cathedral, and has spoken often to the U.S. Bishops Conferences in Baltimore.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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