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Former ‘guardian’ of Vatican artworks dies at 85

By on Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Cardinal Francesco Marchisano delivering an address in 2006 (AP)

Cardinal Francesco Marchisano delivering an address in 2006 (AP)

Once the “guardian” of the early Christian catacombs of Rome and the Vatican’s priceless artworks by Michelangelo, Raphael and other masters, Italian Cardinal Francesco Marchisano has died at the age of 85.

In a telegram of condolence, Pope Francis praised the late cardinal’s generous pastoral witness as a priest and bishop, who eagerly addressed “the needs of the faithful and who was sensitive to the world of art and culture.”

Cardinal Marchisano, who died on Sunday, had held a number of posts at the Vatican, many involving care for the Holy See’s vast collection of artistic treasures.

All of his jobs, he told Catholic News Service in 2002, were focused on communicating the Gospel, usually not through words but through the witness of what human minds and hands were inspired to make in celebration of the faith.

However, despite his many top-level Vatican positions, he said that his favorite ministerial memory was the 30 years he spent, outside office hours, teaching catechism in Rome to groups of children with severe hearing loss.

In 1988, he began serving as secretary of the then-Pontifical Commission for Preserving the Patrimony of Art and History, and then was named its president when the commission’s name was changed in 1993 to the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.

At the time, he also held a second job as president of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, the Vatican office in charge of safeguarding the Christian catacombs of Rome.

Still serving as president of the two pontifical commissions, in 2002, Pope John Paul II gave him additional responsibilities as: papal vicar for Vatican City State, overseeing the pastoral care of those who live within the Vatican walls; archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica; and president of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office responsible for physical care and maintenance of the basilica.

Even though he retired from a number of positions when he turned 75 in 2004, he was appointed in 2005 to be president of the Vatican’s labour office, which is responsible for overseeing the city-state’s workforce.

He retired as the basilica’s archpriest in 2006 and finally as president of the labour office in 2009 at the age of 80.

Born in northern Italy on June 25, 1929, Cardinal Marchisano was ordained to the priesthood in 1952.

He was called early on to work at the then-Congregation for Seminaries and Universities, now known as the Congregation for Catholic Education. For the next 13 years, he worked in the congregation’s seminary section and then from 1969 to 1988 he served as undersecretary of the congregation.

St John Paul made him a cardinal in 2003.

Cardinal Marchisano’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 212 members, 118 of whom are younger than 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave.

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