HOW I KNEW SERVANT OF GOD CARDINAL EDOARDO PIRONIO
I was truly delighted today when I learned that Pope Francis today authorized the Congregation for Causes of Saints to promulgate 5 decrees, including “the heroic virtues” of Servant of God Argentinean Cardinal Edoardo Francesco Pironio, who died on February 5, 1998 in Rome.
Cardinal Pironio was one of the first cardinals I got to meet when I started working at the Vatican Information Service in August 1990.
Bear with me for a minute as I tell the story….
VIS, the Vatican Information Service, was born shortly before my arrival in the Eternal City. VIS was to be part of the Holy See Press Office, a daily news service in English and Spanish (French and Italian were later added) that would be sent to bishops and nuncios throughout the world. The first VIS news transmission was December 28, 1990 over the Christmas holidays in the Vatican.
Transmitted by fax, the bishops and nuncios had to subscribe to this service. We learned that they were more than anxious to pay for receiving daily, updated news from the Vatican from a source considered “official,” that is, the press office. It’s important to remember that there was no such thing as email at the time – the entire Internet world we as know it – the “www” world (world wide web) – was on the cusp of birth, so daily news bulletins by fax were the next best thing.
Because many in the Roman Curia thought that Vatican Information Service was an outside news source, it was decided that the then director, Pietro Brunori and I, speaking the two languages of VIS, would visit the heads of all Roman Curia offices and explain this new Vatican body. We also wanted the heads of the congregations and pontifical councisl to know that we’d love to hear from them, we’d love to publish their news and updates, planned travels and conferences, etc.
One of the cardinals we visited was, as you have guessed, Cardinal Pironio. If one thing stands out from that long ago meeting it was my impression that I was in the presence of a very holy man. That impression only became stronger with every meeting I had with the cardinal, especially when I was asked to be part of the papal party for the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver.
In 1984, Pope John Paul II had named Cardinal Pironio president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and, until he retired in 1996, the cardinal worked with John Paul to promote the new and very popular World Youth Days.
I could write a long and separate chapter on those heady, wonderful, demanding and very happy days in Denver and that shall be for another day. The one thing that grew in my nine days in Denver was the feeling that I was always in the presence of a very saintly man – not just a good, caring, kind, thoughtful, loving man, but a holy man.
And it was in Denver that I first heard the most amazing story – a story Cardinal Pironio told months before his death and a story that Pope John Paul told in his homily at the cardinal’s funeral in February 1998:
“His was a faith learned at his mother’s knee. A woman of solid yet simple Christian background, she was able to impress the genuine Gospel meaning of life on her children’s hearts. “In the history of my family”, the late Cardinal said one day, “there is something miraculous. When she gave birth to her first son, my mother was barely 18 years old and fell seriously ill. After her recovery the doctors told her that she would not be able to have any more children without risking her own life. So she went to consult the Auxiliary Bishop of La Plata, who told her: ‘Doctors can be mistaken: put yourself in God’s hands and do your duty as a wife’. My mother then gave birth to 21 more. I am the last, and she lived until she was 82. But the story does not end here, for in later years I was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of La Plata, replacing the very Bishop who had blessed my mother. On the day of my episcopal ordination”, Cardinal Pironio continued, “the Archbishop gave me that Bishop’s pectoral cross without knowing the story behind it. When I told him that I owed my life to the cross’s owner, he wept”.
“I wanted to mention this episode recounted by the Cardinal himself because it highlights the reasons which sustained his journey of faith. His life was a hymn of faith to the God of life. He says so again in his Spiritual Testament: “How beautiful it is to live! You have made us, O Lord, for life. I love it, I offer it, I await it. You are my Life, as you have always been my Truth and my Way.”
Truly the words of a holy man!
The cause for canonization of Cardinal Pironio began on June 23, 2006, in Rome.