Cardinal Louis-Marie Billé of Lyon Dies of Cancer

Had Presided over French Episcopate for 5 Years

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PARIS, MARCH 12, 2002 ( Cardinal Louis-Marie Billé, archbishop of Lyon and former president of the French episcopal conference, died of cancer today. He was 64.

The cardinal revealed his illness last October, and the following month he resigned from the presidency of the episcopal conference, to which he was elected in 1996.

Cardinal Billé underwent chemotherapy of the colon, following a Jan. 15 operation and a two-week stay in the hospital.

Ordained a priest in 1962, this professor of sacred Scripture was named bishop of Laval in 1984 by John Paul II. He became archbishop of Aix-en-Provence and Arles in May 1995, and archbishop of Lyon and French primate in July 1998. He was made a cardinal on Feb. 21, 2001.

As archbishop of Lyon and president of the episcopal conference, he was outstanding for his clarity of thought, his adherence to John Paul II, and his collegial work with the other French bishops.

He involved the whole Church in France in the preparation of the Paris World Youth Day, held in August 1997, which was a huge, unexpected success.

During the bishops´ annual assembly, held in Lourdes in November 2000, Archbishop Billé said that the Church in France was living through difficult times, as society regards it «as a marginal reality or at least incongruent,» especially when it refers to morality.

On topics such as abortion and de facto unions, the cardinal lamented that the Church was neither listened to, nor understood, by politicians.

In his farewell address to the bishops, delivered in Lourdes last Nov. 4, the cardinal made a moving evaluation of his five years as president of the episcopal conference.

«With you, like you — I do not dare say, ´for you´ — I have lived this time of ministry as a possibility to enter fully in the following of Christ, in the service of the Church, for the defense of man and the quest for peace,» he said.

«The Lord does not cease to say to us: ´You, yourselves, feed them´ today. He is with us on the way. His Spirit will not abandon us,» the cardinal concluded.

He is the second cardinal to die in two days. Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, 82, of Croatia died Monday in Zagreb.

The College of Cardinals now has 176 members, including 128 electors under age 80.

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