By Alessandro De Carolis
“Great dignity” and “solemn sobriety”: Those words offer a photograph of the qualities of the late Cardinal Martinez Somalo, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI.
Shortly before his 80th birthday, on 31 March 2007, Eduardo Martínez Somalo, then Cardinal Chamberlain (or Camerlengo) of the Holy Roman Church, wrote to Benedict XVI to offer his resignation from the post due to the age limit. The Pope sent him a letter that revealed his great esteem.
Pope Benedict, now emeritus, in his letter dated 4 April 2007, used a series of nouns and adjectives to describe the retiring Cardinal, including “diligence”, “competence”, and “love” spent in the service of the Holy See.
He also noted the attitudes of solemn sobriety and dignity shown by the Chamberlain at the time when, following the death of Pope St. John Paul II, he became the highest authority pro tempore of the Church. Everything in that letter confirms “sincere appreciation” towards a priest and a bishop who remained “intimately connected” to the mission in the Apostolic See.
From the world to the city
In fact, the story of Cardinal Martinez Somalo – who died late Tuesday morning in the Vatican -where he resided – often took him to and from Rome, ever since the dawn of his ministry.
Even before his priestly ordination he was sent from Spain – he was originally from Baños de Río Tobía, province of La Rioja – to complete his studies at the Pontifical Spanish College and the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he graduated with degrees in Theology and Canon Law.
The future cardinal was ordained a priest in 1950, afterwards returned to his native diocese of Calahorra y La Calzada-Logroño, and then returned to Rome again, this time to attend courses at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the school for future diplomats of the Holy See.
In August 1956, he became an official at the Secretariat of State, and was made responsible for the Spanish section. For this reason, he was at Pope St. Paul VI’s side in August 1968 during his Apostolic Journey to Colombia for the 39th International Eucharistic Congress.
He spent 14 years in the Vatican, then in April 1970 he was appointed counselor of the Apostolic Delegation to Great Britain. But just six months later, in October, the Secretariat of State called him back as an assessor and then as a direct collaborator of the then-substitute, Archbishop Giovanni Benelli.
Another five years of service in the Vatican, during which Martinez Somalo always found a way to divide his time between the Vatican offices, where many also appreciated his sense of humor, and his closeness to the people, in particular to those who suffer.
Then, on 12 November 1975, Paul VI appointed him as a titular archbishop and sent him as Apostolic Nuncio to Colombia. He then returned to the Holy See after four years.
The Pope who recalled him in May 1979 was John Paul II, who appointed him as substitute of the Secretariat of State, a position he held until 1988, when the Polish Pope created him cardinal.
In the same year he was also appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, a post that Cardinal Martínez Somalo left in 1992 to dedicate himself to leading the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, of which he became Prefect Emeritus in 2004.