Cardinal Martínez Somalo passes away at age 94

At the service of the Church and the Pope with dedication

13 August 2021

Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, Camerlengo emeritus of the Holy Roman Church, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, passed away at his home in the Vatican on Tuesday morning, 10 August. He was 94.

Eduardo Martínez Somalo was born on 31 March 1927 in Baños de Río Tobía, Spain, in the Diocese of Calahorra y La Calzada-Logroño. He was the youngest of 12 children of José Martínez Campo and Julia Somalo Ibáñez. After attending the diocesan seminary in Logroño, he was sent to Rome to continue his ecclesiastical studies at the Pontifical Spanish College and the Pontifical Gregorian University, earning a license in Theology and Canon Law.

He was ordained a priest in 1950 by Cardinal Vice Regent Luigi Traglia in the Chapel of Our Lady of Clemency in the Pontifical Spanish College, and then returned to his native village to serve in pastoral ministry. He then returned to Rome to study at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy to prepare for service to the Holy See in pontifical representation.

After earning a doctorate in Canon Law at the Pontifical Lateran University, he entered the Secretariat of State as an official in 1953. The following year he was promoted to the Nunciature and was appointed a professor at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. As the head of the Spanish Section of the Secretariat of State, he accompanied Pope Montini on his Apostolic pilgrimage to Colombia from 22 to 25 August 1968, for the 39th International Eucharistic Con-gress.

Two years later, on 25 April 1970, he was appointed an advisor to the Apostolic Delegation in Great Britain. He was appointed Prelate of Honour of His Holiness shortly thereafter, on 14 May 1970, and in October of that year he was summoned back to the Vatican as Assessor of the Secretariat of State and then as direct collaborator of Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, then the Substitute of the Secretariat of State. Throughout this period, despite his increasingly demanding responsibilities, he continued to carry out an intense pastoral ministry, particularly dedicating himself to those suffering in the hospitals of Rome.

In 1975, Paul VI appointed him Archbishop and Apostolic Nuncio to Colombia, and Cardinal Jean Villot, Secretary of State, conferred his episcopal ordination in the Vatican Basilica, with concelebrants Archbishop Benelli and Bishop Francisco Álvarez Martínez of Tarragona, Apostolic Administrator of his native diocese. Archbishop Somalo chose “Caritas et Veritas” as his episcopal motto.

In January 1928, in Bogotá, he spoke at the international conference promoted by UNESCO on the cultural politics in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1979, between 27 January and 13 February, he participated in the third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate in Puebla, Mexico. Then, after four years of service as Pontifical Representative in Colombia, he was appointed Secretary of State by John Paul II. He served in this role for nine years: tireless in his faithful service to the See of Peter, he was always at the side of John Paul II during his numerous Apostolic pilgrimages in Italy and around the world. He particularly remembered the visits to Nagasaki and Auschwitz, the pilgrimages to Poland, meetings in Africa and in countries where freedom and human dignity were denied, as well as the witness of solidarity in 1980, with the populations in Irpinia who were struck by an earthquake.

He was later placed at the helm of two important Vatican Dicasteries: the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which he led from 1988 to 1992, and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, serving as its Prefect until 2004.

From 1993 to 2007 he served as Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, and participated in the Conclave that elected Benedict XVI. In the days of April 2005, between the death of John Paul II and the election of his successor, Cardinal Somalo carried out the functions of his office as Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, and presided the rites following the death of Pope Wojtyła. On 4 April 2007 Pope Ratzinger sent him a letter to express his gratitude for the “zeal, competence and love” with which he carried out the delicate duties of Camerlengo, particularly the “solemn sobriety” he employed “at the moment of the pious death of the dear departed Pope John Paul II, on the occasion of the extraordinary demonstration of faith during the funeral services of the beloved Pontiff, throughout the entire period of the sede vacante and in carrying out the works of the Conclave for the election of the new Pope”.

He was created a Cardinal in the Consistory of 28 June 1998, with the Title of the Santissimo Nome di Gesù, and in taking possession of the Title, he made explicit reference to the missionary initiative of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and of the Society of Jesus, to the Marian dimension and to his fidelity to the Pope.

He took part in numerous convocations of the Synod of Bishops and was, in particular, President Delegate to the First Special Assembly for Europe (1991) and to the Ninth General Assembly (1994) on consecrated life. He also participated in the Ordinary Synod of 1990 on the formation of priests; the Special Assemblies for America in 1997, for Asia in 1998, for Oceania in 1998, and for Europe in 1999; and in the Ordinary Synods of 2001 on the mission of the bishop and of 2005 on the Eucharist.

As the Special Envoy of the Holy Father, he presided the Fifth National Eucharistic Congress in Ecuador in 1988, the First National Eucharistic Congress in Santo Domingo in 1991, the 11th International Mariological Congress and the 18th International Marian Congress in Huelva, Spain, in 1992. In addition, he served as Papal Legate to the closing ceremony of the Ignatian Year on 31 July 1991, in his titular Church in Rome.

From 12 to 28 October 1992 he took part in the Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate in Santo Domingo. On 10 October 1993 he participated with particular joy — as he also shared in an article published in L’Osservatore Romano — in the Beatification of Victoria Diez y Bustos de Molina, a young woman martyred in Spain in 1936.

In 1996 he presented John Paul II’s Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, which followed the Synod of Bishops celebrated from 2 to 29 October 1994 on the theme “Consecrated Life and its Mission in the Church and in the World”. A reflection relaunched on the occasion of the Holy Year 2000, in particular during the days dedicated to the jubilee of consecrated life.

He was Cardinal Protodeacon from 29 January 1996 until 9 January 1999, when, during the Ordinary Public Consistory for the vote on certain causes of canonization, after having requested it, he opted for the Order of Presbyteral Cardinals, maintaining the diaconia of the Santissimo Nome di Gesù, elevated to presbyteral title pro hac vice.

Within the Roman Curia, he served in the Council of the Second Section of the Secretariat of State; of the Congregations for the Causes of Saints, for Bishops, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for the Clergy, for Catholic Education; of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; of the Cardinals’ Commission for Oversight of the Institute for Works of Religion.

Cardinal Somalo’s funeral was held on Friday morning, 13 August, at the Altar of the Chair in Saint Peter’s Basilica.