Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini: Candidate for Papacy forged new alliances between Catholics and Jews

Par Father John Walsh le 30 septembre 2012


The death of a retired Cardinal has made headlines throughout the world.  The headline of the New York Times was "Cardinal Carlo Martini says Church 200 years behind."However, the headline didn't capture his prophetic voice as a reflection Jeremiah knew when he wrote:  “When I found your words, I devoured them, they became my joy and the happiness of my heart."

carlo_martini.JPGCarlo Maria Cardinal Martini died on September 1st in Milan, Italy.  He was a great scholar and one of my professors at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome where he was elected Rector of the Institute by his colleagues.  I followed his course on “Textus Critcus” or “A critical look at the text of Scriptures” where he meticulously studied every jot and title of the sacred texts.  He was a pastoral innovator, a Jesuit priest, who never lost contact with the people.  He began a“Lectio Divino” (praying with a slow reading of the Sacred Scriptures) which attracted the youth of his Diocese.  Eventually Sunday evenings with the Cardinal became so popular that he needed to train five priests to lead the evenings in other Parish locations via the Diocesan radio station.  He was in great demand as a retreat master and once again he made use of the Diocesan radio station to preach retreats simultaneously to several different groups located in different locations.  He was a prolific writer and made the Word of God accessible to everyone. .

Cardinal Martini lived the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and confessed and professed the Church as The People of God.  He was not a pompous hierarch.  Each year he began his pastoral visits with a visit to the prison where he said he found all stripes of humanity.  He was a dedicated scholar always offering his findings so that the readers would be invited to a new understanding of their everyday lives.  Social justice was integral to the Good News he preached.  His writings are prolific and in retirement he moved to Jerusalem where, for the very first time,he penned a book in Modern Hebrew.  I wrote to the Cardinal asking him for an autographed copy. In his return message he excused himself saying he didn’t have a copy with him.  I wrote to Rabbi David Rosen who had written the introduction.  I was sent a copy and Rabbi  Rosen wrote: “To Father John, In appreciation and friendship.  May the wisdom of the author of this book be an everlasting inspiration to Catholics and Jews. Signed David. (Jerusalem, August ’08.)  

In a fictional work entitled, Confessions d’un Cardinal, it is purported that Cardinal Martini, in the Conclave that chose Benedict XVI, withdrew from the election because he couldn’t accept to follow John Paul II who died with Parkinsons when he had recently been diagnosed with the beginnings of the same disease.  The Church would be a different Church had he been elected.    

Martini was a tall man with a majestic figure but it was the human touch of the man that left so many enthralled by him.  One day my sister Marlene, my brother-in-law Tom, and myself were walking through the courtyard of the Biblical Institute when we fell upon Father Martini.  I greeted Father and introduced my sister and her husband.  He complimented me on my Italian and then invited us to join him for a cup of coffee. What an incredible 25 minutes that left all three of us marked by his openness, his generosity, and his cordial manner.  

Then one evening, when I was at CJAD, Kathy Coulombe mentioned she was going to visit Milan.  I gave her the Cardinal’s address and she arrived at his door with a can of Canadian Maple Syrup. He was not home.  I later wrote the Cardinal and shared the incident.  He replied and said that one day he would visit and accept the Maple Syrup from Kathy.  She has a copy of the note.

Cardinal Martini courageously responded to many of the most pressing issues that faced the Church. He welcomed modernity.  He spoke the truth of the Gospel.

As Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, he created a program under which Catholic students go to Israel to study Judaism, biblical archaeology and Hebrew. I was a member of the first group to attend Hebrew University in 1975.  It changed the way I was to minister as a Catholic priest and literally changed my life.

Jews, throughout the Diaspora, end Passover with the acclamation: Next Year Jerusalem.  I was invited to be at the home of  Shimiriyahu Talmon, the curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and at table was Father Martini.   A Passover never to be forgotten.  

The Church Cardinal Martini envisaged is the Church of the Second Vatican Council.  The many contributions he made to rethink and reinterpret the Gospel in the light of modernity will be a template for the centuries to come.  Words cannot capture the magnitude of the contributions of Cardinal Martini and while his mind was a fertile ground of reflection the love in his heart drove him to love what was possible to change when others judged them impossible to change.  He loved openly, readily forgive sinners, sought reconciliation with other faith traditions, and I believe as Micah says true religion is, “to do justice, to love tenderly and to walk carefully with your God;” or as Isaiah proclaims: “If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

Matthew calls all people to realize that, “Whatever you do to the last of my sisters and brothers, you do it to me.”

May Cardinal Martini’s light of faith, hope and love shine for all people. 



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