Former Vatican librarian, a friend of Pope Francis, dies at 91

By Andrea Gagliarducci

Share |
Increase font size Decrease font size

A cardinal's biretta rests on an empty chair. Credit: Alan Holdren / CNA.

Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejěa, a former prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library and a longtime friend of Pope Francis, died on Tuesday Dec. 9.

The Pope had been visiting the cardinal since the very first days of his pontificate and had administered the Anointing of the Sick three times.

Cardinal Mejěa was born in Buenos Aires on Jan. 31, 1923. Ordained a priest in 1945, he finished his studies at the Angelicum, the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome. There, he became acquainted with Karol Wojtyla, the future St. John Paul II.

He taught Old Testament at the Catholic University of Argentina until 1962, when he was called to Rome to serve as expert at the Second Vatican Council.

In 1977, because of his expertise in Catholic-Jewish dialogue, Blessed Paul VI appointed him secretary of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

In a 2009 interview with the Vatican daily newspaper ‘L’Osservatore Romano,’ Cardinal Mejěa recounted that his interest in Judaism began before the Second Vatican Council.

“Numerous Jews live in Buenos Aires and in certain provinces such as Entre Rios and Santa Fe, as a result of the emigration encouraged by Baron Hirsch,” the cardinal said, referring to a leading nineteenth century Jewish advocate of emigration.

“I became interested in Judaism essentially for two reasons,” he explained. “The first was because, as a teacher of Sacred Scripture, I realized that to have greater familiarity with Biblical Hebrew it was important to know modern Hebrew.

He said another reason was his meeting Rabbi Leon Klenicki, an interfaith relations advocate who was a leader with the Anti-Defamation League.

In 1986, St. John Paul II appointed then-Msgr. Mejěa deputy president of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, which later became a pontifical council in 1988.

In 1994, Mejěa was appointed Secretary for the Congregation of Bishops and Secretary of the College of Cardinals. In 1998 John Paul II named him Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library.

He was made a cardinal in the February 2001 consistory. He left his post as head of the Vatican library in 2003, upon reaching the canonical age limit of 80 years. He did not take part in the 2005 and 2013 conclaves due to the age limit.

While the 2013 conclave was meeting, Cardinal Mejěa had a heart attack. The newly elected Pope Francis decided to pay him a visit at the hospital March 15, 2013, two days after his election.

After that visit, Pope Francis reportedly visited Cardinal Mejěa at least three times at the cardinal’s home in Piazza San Calisto, a Vatican territory separated from Vatican City State. The piazza hosts several Vatican offices, including that of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, as well as the houses of many cardinals.

During Pope Francis’ visits, he administered the Anointing of the Sick to Cardinal Mejěa.

Cardinal Mejěa’s funeral will be celebrated Dec. 11 in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals. At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis will celebrate the rite of the final commendation and valediction.

In a telegram of condolence addressed to Cardinal Mejěa’s brother, Pope Francis underscored the cardinal’s “faithfulness and competence.” He assured his brother of his prayers and his closeness for those who lament the death of “this shepherd dedicated to the mission of evangelizing” to whom the Pope was “linked by a long-term friendship.”

Share |
Increase font size Decrease font size