07 Card. Danneels: Intellectual, pastor and man of quiet hope - Robert Mickens

posted Mar 27, 2019, 10:22 PM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Mar 27, 2019, 10:22 PM ]
Something that could be the text to describe my life is from Saint Francis of Assisi who said to his companions: 'You should never let anyone go away from you in sadness. Everything you say must be an encouragement.'"

Indeed, it was by these words that Cardinal Godfried Danneels strived to be a preacher of the Gospel and friend to all humanity. The cardinal died on March 14, at the age of 85, after several years of steadily declining health.

As a beloved and unifying figure in his native Belgium, and one of the longest-serving cardinals of the universal Church (outranked only by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray), Danneels was a source of encouragement for reform-minded Catholics and those who would describe themselves as theologically or culturally "progressive." He was — for me, as well — a voice of reason, hope and patient engagement with the social realities of a rapidly changing and secularized world. Naturally, Catholic traditionalists, doctrinal hardliners and culture warriors saw him in starkly different terms. They criticised Danneels — as they also complain about Pope Francis — as being weak and capitulating to the forces they see as corroding Catholic faith and morals and destroying the Western world.

Danneels was only 44, when Pope Paul VI plucked him from academia, and appointed him Bishop of Antwerp in 1977. But he served the greater part of his episcopal ministry under the pontificates of Pope John Paul II (who sent him to Brussels in 1979, and created him cardinal in 1983) and Pope Benedict XVI. Though he was often at odds with the way these last two Popes interpreted and sought to implement the teachings and vision of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Danneels remained fiercely loyal to the papacy. In recognition of this, he was retained as a senior member of four Vatican congregations and a consultor to the Secretariat of State until his 80th birthday.

It was only three months before he hit that milestone, that Danneels made, perhaps, his most significant contribution to the Church, and some would say, the world. On March 13, 2013, he played a major role in securing Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's election as Bishop of Rome. He allegedly called the election of Pope Francis a moment of "personal resurrection." The current Pope brought the cardinal with him on the balcony overlooking St Peter's Square, the night of his papal election.