VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 9, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, died Sunday in a hospital in Rome, after a long illness. He was 76.
A former president of the Brazilian episcopal conference and archbishop emeritus of San Salvador da Bahia, he was considered one of the most outstanding Church figures in Latin America in the era after the Second Vatican Council.
When he received the news of the death, John Paul II described the cardinal in a letter he sent to his relatives as a “faithful servant of the Church in Brazil and of the Apostolic See.”
A religious of the Dominican congregation, Lucas Moreira Neves was ordained to the priesthood in 1950. At the start of his priestly ministry, he was a novice master and assistant to university students in Rio de Janeiro.
In the early 1970s he was spiritual adviser to the Christian Family Movement, and to intellectuals and artists, especially in the theater, in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
Pope Paul VI in 1967 appointed him auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, where he dedicated much energy to the pastoral care of the laity.
In 1974 the Pope called him to Rome and appointed him vice president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
In October 1979, John Paul II entrusted him with two critical offices: secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, and secretary of the College of Cardinals.
In 1987, the Pope named him archbishop of Sao Salvador da Bahia. The following year he was made a cardinal.
In 1990, Cardinal Neves was relator at the Synod of Bishops on priestly formation.
Five years later, he was chosen president of the Brazilian bishops’ conference. He left the post in 1998, as the Pope called him back to Rome to appoint him prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He was the first Latin American appointed to this post.
For reasons of health — he suffered from diabetes — and age, he resigned from these two posts on Sept. 16, 2000, his 75th birthday.
During the last interview Cardinal Neves had with ZENIT, he stressed that beyond the responsibilities he was assigned, the mission he loved most in life was to transmit the affectionate love of God, exactly the way it was experienced by St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
He was the great “postulator” for the proclamation of the Carmelite as a doctor of the Church, as he admitted in an 1997 interview with the Paris newspaper La Croix.
A defender of human rights, Cardinal Neves initiated the construction of a city for Sao Salvador da Bahia’s street children.
When speaking about liberation theology, he distinguished two main internal currents: one is a theological reflection on social justice in the light of the Word of God and of the magisterium; the other (“whose destiny is finished,” he said) is an analysis of society according to Marxist dogmas. Time was to prove him right.
Cardinal Neves’ funeral will take place Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica. John Paul II, presiding, will deliver a homily. The eucharistic liturgy will be celebrated by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, vice dean of the College of Cardinals, together with other cardinals.
With Cardinal Neves’ death, the College of Cardinals now has 173 members, including 117 who could vote for a new pope in a conclave.