On Friday August 31, 2012, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, S.J., entered eternal life following his long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 85 years old. The world renowned Scripture scholar, teacher, archbishop emeritus of Milan - the world’s largest Archdiocese with more than 5 million inhabitants - distinguished himself as an internationally respected Church leader.
Appointed archbishop by Pope John Paul II to the See of St. Ambrose and St. Charles Borromeo, at the age of 52, Martini was a towering giant of the College of Cardinals. The Italian Church looked to him for direction, wisdom and inspiration for more than three decades. It was no surprise that in the three days that his body lay in state in Milan’s Duomo, over two hundred thousand people passed quietly before his mortal remains to pay their respects and give thanks to God for their beloved shepherd.
Martini’s funeral on September 3, Feast of St. Gregory the Great, was nothing short of a state funeral, televised throughout Italy and in many countries of the world, including in Canada through the Salt and Light Catholic Television Network. Through the moving funeral mass in the Ambrosian Rite, gathering together over 20,000 people from every walk and level of life in Italy and far beyond, Cardinal Martini continued to unite and teach even in death.
Carlo Maria Martini was born in Orbassano, near Turin, Italy, on February 15, 1927. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1944 and studied philosophy and theology at two theological centres in northern Italy. He was ordained a priest at the age of 25 in July 1952.
In 1958, Carlo Maria Martini was awarded a doctorate (summa cum laude) at the Gregorian University for a dissertation on historical aspects of the resurrection of Jesus. After teaching for several years at Chieri, he was awarded a second doctorate (summa cum laude) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute for a thesis treating questions about the text of Luke's Gospel in the light of the Codex Vaticanus and the Bodmer Papyrus XIV. Martini took his final vows as a Jesuit in 1962.
From 1962, he held a chair in the very difficult area of textual criticism at the Biblicum. From the 1960s, he was the only Catholic in an elite group of scholars headed by Professor Kurt Aland at the Institute for New Testament Textual Research at Munster, in Germany. They produced their first edition of The Greek New Testament in 1966, and he was still on the team when the fourth edition appeared in 1993. Every version of the Greek New Testament contains the name of Carlo Maria Martini.
Martini became rector of the prestigious Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome (1967-1978). As rector of the Biblicum, he created a program under which Catholic students go to Israel to study Judaism, biblical archaeology and Hebrew. As a result of his work in Jerusalem, Cardinal Martini became deeply attached to the city. I, for one benefited in a great way from Martini’s efforts in establishing this program in Jerusalem and owe my love of Jerusalem and of the Holy Land to Carlo Maria Martini.
In July 1978, Martini was named rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University. Then in late 1979, Martini’s life was radically changed when he was named by the new Pope to head the Ambrosian Diocese. A biblical scholar, he never held a parish post. Cardinal Martini became the first Jesuit in 35 years to head an Italian archdiocese when he was named archbishop of Milan.
Pope John Paul II ordained Martini archbishop January 6, 1980, in St. Peter's Basilica. Named to the College of Cardinals in 1983, he was immediately appointed to four different Vatican bodies instead of the one or two on which most new cardinals serve. For twenty-two years, Carlo Maria Martini governed, taught, and sanctified the people of Milan and the people of the world. Already known throughout the entire world because of his teaching, retreat preaching and writings, Martini traveled widely and spoke French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and modern Greek in addition to his native Italian and the ancient languages of Latin, Greek and Hebrew.
Some of Martini’s positions in relation to remarried divorcees, the recognition of same-sex unions and the subject of bioethics, have sparked a great deal of debate in recent years. Some thought that Martini’s questioning might be too open for Catholic moral doctrine. They missed the boat in what he was saying. They also didn’t pay attention to his other clear declarations in defense of marriage, life and against abortion; his stance in favour of equality in education and his proposals for a careful and intelligent integration of Muslims into Milanese society. All of these important issues and many more were at the core of Martini's pastoral ministry and teaching.
Those who wish to label him “the liberal archbishop” or the “anti-Pope”; or to set him against either Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI are wrong in their immature and uninformed judgment. Martini’s Christianity was profoundly rooted in the Word of God, in the Sacraments and in the Church. He was an intelligent, loyal servant of the Church.
The Final Lessons
Following his retirement in 2002, his interests focused on biblical studies, Catholic-Jewish dialogue and praying for peace in the Middle East. What struck so many of us these past years, even more than Martini’s “Lecture series for non believers” and “School of the Word” and any of his numerous books - which he confessed he never wrote as they were almost always transcriptions of his speeches – was the way in which he dealt with his illness. Though his body was riddled with Parkinson's disease, Martini continued to publish books, offer spiritual reflections and answer readers' questions in a monthly column he wrote - until only a few months ago - for the Sunday edition of Corriere della Sera, one of Italy's most important newspapers. He lived out his suffering in the public eye, bonding and connecting with those living and suffering with Parkinsons.
In his final book, entitled Il Vescovo (The Bishop), published by Rosenberg & Sellier, in March of this year, Martini considers the delicate subject of authority within the church. Cardinal Martini presents readers with two intriguing portraits representing the two opposite faces of authority: a rigid one that is incapable of listening and one that is inspired by the Word of God, taking into consideration the human person.
A bishop is a pastor of men and of souls. He has a big responsibility because he is the heir of the apostolic tradition; he is the spiritual guide of the church, the diocese that unites parishes and communities of Christian faithful. If his role is limited to that of authority, neglecting his pastoral task of educating and testifying the Gospel as a humble servant of the Lord’s church, his real role ceases as it becomes a role of ecclesiastical authority that is neither prophetic nor linked to a genuine evangelical dimension.
If these defects – authoritarianism and rigidity – grow out of proportion, they can cause serious detrimental effects on the bishop’s service. Martini states that authoritarian bishops are those who under no circumstances accept dialogue or listen to their advisors, but act rashly without heeding advice he may even have asked for. Such bishops break the ties that had been forged with their successors and no longer feel like bishops but like fathers and kings of their dioceses. If said bishops also have a cantankerous temperament, then no one is spared from his animosity.
Cardinal Martini refused to have a nasogastric tube inserted into him to feed him. He had not been able to swallow for fifteen days and was only being kept alive through parenteral hydration. Martini had reiterated his position in his last book entitled "Credere e conoscere" (“Believing and knowing”), published by Einaudi last March. In the book, he appeals to reason, even on the subject of euthanasia: “The new technologies which make increasingly efficient operations on the human body possible, require a dose of wisdom, to prevent prolonging treatments when they no longer benefit the patient.”
Remembering Cardinal Martini
Cardinal Martini was for me a mentor, teacher, model Scripture scholar and friend. He has influenced my life, teaching, pastoral ministry in a very significant way over the past 30 years. When many colleagues, students and friends have asked me these past years how I maintained my faith and hope in the world of scripture scholarship and teaching, I often told them: “I had three Martinis a day.” I think I have read everything that Cardinal Martini wrote, or that appeared under his name. I first met Cardinal Martini in Milan in 1981. He had already begun the Lectio Divina sessions with young people in Milan’s Duomo. I was amazed then and continued to be captivated by his method of preaching, teaching and praying the Scriptures.
When my Superiors assigned me to Scripture studies in Rome, and then Jerusalem, I began to appreciate Martini’s immense contribution to the biblical world. It was always a thrill when he would come to visit us at the Biblicum, celebrate mass with the students and then give an afternoon lecture in the Aula Magna. He walked in wearing a simple black cassock and small pectoral cross. With no notes in hand and only a Greek New Testament, he taught us one year how to lead Lectio Divina sessions with young people, and the next year he lectured us on the importance of Textual Criticism, one of the deadliest topics in Scripture Studies. From that point on he made the topic not only interesting but necessary.
We exchanged numerous letters over the years, and I remember asking Cardinal Martini for some advice as I prepared World Youth Day 2002 in Canada. Two moments, however, remain engraved in my memory and heart. Following the adventure of World Youth Day 2002, I asked permission to spend a month in the Holy Land to pray and rest. I wanted to spend some days at the Franciscan Retreat House on Mount Tabor. When I arrived, the lovely Italian sister greeted me and said: “You’ll be very happy to know that there is hardly anyone here these days. There is only one other guest. You will meet him this afternoon at tea.” After prayers, I walked into the dining room only to find Cardinal Martini sitting at the table. I blurted out: “Eminenza, how good it is to be here!” He said: “Should we not build three tents?” We had a good laugh and a wonderful visit.
A year later, as I presented the documentary of St. Gianna Beretta Molla on the eve of her canonization in Rome, the Cardinal thanked me for telling the true story of that great laywoman saint of his diocese. Martini loved St. Gianna Beretta Molla, calling her at her beatification ten years earlier: “Marvelous woman, lover of life, wife, mother, exemplary doctor, she offered her life so that she would not violate the mystery of the dignity of life.”
I sincerely hope and pray that the life and teaching of Cardinal Martini will penetrate deeply the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization in Rome. Martini clearly showed us how to evangelize. He lived out his episcopal ministry as a bishop of the Second Vatican Council, one who was honest, just, fair and unafraid. He constantly called forth goodness in other people. This great man was able to communicate not just with the faithful but also with people who were far from the faith, bringing the message of the Gospel to everyone. He taught us not to be afraid to dialogue and to reach out. He reminded us that under the smoldering ashes of a Church that is at times tired and discouraged, burdened with history and traditions, there are still embers waiting to be fanned into flame.
May this brilliant pastor and teacher continue to bless us and teach us from the heavenly Jerusalem. I conclude with this prayer written by Cardinal Martini, which appears in his book "Due Pellegrini per la Giustizia" (Centro Ambrosiano: Edizioni Piemme, 1992). The English translation is my own.
Lord Our God,
We Praise you and we bless you for Jerusalem,
Because you have given this city to us
As the symbol of the story of God and the story of humanity;
The sign of your love for us and of your forgiveness for our sins;
The symbol of our earthly pilgrimage toward you,
A pilgrimage that involves so many difficulties and so many conflicts.
We pray for Jerusalem and for all of our Jewish
And Arab brothers and sisters.
We give you thanks, Lord,
Because you have called us to serve Christ
And to carry his cross today in the Church,
The Church that has its center in Rome;
Since you have called us to be one with your Son,
You teach us to give a name to our oneness with him,
In the words of Ignatius of Loyola,
The true bride of Christ our Lord, who is our Holy Mother Church
We thank you for the Church and for Rome
That is the image of unity
And the pilgrimage toward this unity,
And for the trials that we must undergo to achieve this unity.
We ask you that we may be faithful to Jerusalem and to Rome,
To your Son and to the Church,
In this common journey of humanity
Toward the heart of the Trinity,
Toward the contemplation of your face
Of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.