Two weeks ago, men and women who really knew and loved the Church from all over the world suffered the loss of one of the greatest bishops of the last 100 years. It was Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the retired Archbishop of Milan. Even though he has been gone from the diocese for ten years, 200,000 faithful attended his funeral ceremonies.
Why did 200,000 people turn out for one man’s funeral? There are many reasons but the underlying reason was that he was so loved and was such a beautiful, pastoral bishop. Prior to becoming a bishop, Cardinal Martini was rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. The Biblical Institute is the greatest school of Scripture studies that the Church has and under his leadership, it flourished tremendously. The man did his work based on God’s word and an awesome gentleness in exercising the office of bishop.
He made a tremendous impact on young people. While Archbishop of Milan, Martini preached every Sunday night in the Cathedral at a Mass celebrated for the youth of the city. The average attendance was approximately 5,000.
I knew about this man and knew what a wonderful shepherd he was, and twice when the papacy was vacated by death, I prayed fervently that he would be elected pope. That was not to be and I wonder what would have been different if this man had led the Church for the last third of a century. We will never know. What we do know is that love, gentleness and scholarship have a tremendous impact. Martini had these gifts and used them extraordinarily well. Legalism for some reason does not produce the same results inside the life of the Church. I know of no one who has joined the Church because of their admiration for canon law.
May God bless and reward this saintly bishop.