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Washington — President Donald Trump intends to nominate the Michigan consultant who helped coordinate Catholic outreach for Trump’s campaign to be ambassador to Fiji and four other south and central Pacific island nations, the White House said Tuesday.

If approved by the Senate, Joseph Cella would serve as ambassador to Fiji, an archipelago of more than 300 islands northeast of New Zealand, as well as the Republics of Kiribati and Nauru, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Tuvalu.

Cella, 48, was raised in the City of Richmond in Macomb County, graduated from Hillsdale College and lives outside Ann Arbor in Augusta Township in Washtenaw County.

Cella led the Trump campaign’s Catholic advisory council during the 2016 election, and he founded the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in 2004.

He has served as principal of a consulting firm, the Pontifex Group, since 2010 and co-founded the Catholic advocacy organization Catholic Vote, which has grown to more than 700,000 members, according to a White House biography.

A decade ago, Cella was working on Capitol Hill as a staffer for former U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter, a Michigan Republican, and later as a senior adviser to the House Republican Steering Committee and Republican Policy Committee.

Cella wasn’t always been a Trump supporter. During the presidential primaries, he signed onto an open letter in March 2016 with other Catholic leaders who called Trump “manifestly unfit to be president of the United States,” citing his “vulgarity,” his appeals to racial and ethnic fears, and questioning his commitment to ending abortion.

The group urged fellow Catholics and citizens to reject Trump’s candidacy for the GOP nomination.

Cella later told America magazine that he had “a sincere change of heart and mind,” with his concerns allayed in part by Trump's pledge to appoint anti-abortion judges.

“Mr. Trump has promised to appoint justices in the mold of great Catholic jurist and thinker Antonin Scalia,” Cella told America in September 2016.

“Hillary Clinton has promised to do just the opposite, and that will have far reaching and long-lasting implications for the Catholic Church and the lay faithful, on everything from pro-life issues to religious liberty to health care in ways we can’t fathom.”

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736

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