VATICAN CITY, JAN. 12, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has expressed his sorrow upon receiving news of the death of Cardinal Pio Laghi, who died Sunday at age 86.
The cardinal, former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, also performed various key diplomatic missions entrusted him by Pope John Paul II. Among his missions were visits to U.S. President George H.W. Bush in an attempt to ward off the war in Iraq, service as the apostolic nuncio in Argentina and the United States, and apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine.
He was also patron of the Sovereign Order of Malta.
In a telegram to the cardinal’s nephews, Benedict XVI recalled his “long and generous service to the Holy See, in particular as a pontifical representative in various countries and as the prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education.”
“I want to express to you, as well as to all his family members, my heartfelt participation in the sorrow that affects those who knew and esteemed the late cardinal, and as I raise fervent prayers to God so that he grants him the prize promised to the faithful servants of the Gospel, I send from my heart a special and consoling apostolic blessing to those who mourn his death.”
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, will celebrate Cardinal Laghi’s funeral Tuesday morning, at the end of which the Holy Father will address the faithful.
Pio Laghi was born in Italy in 1922 and ordained a priest in 1946.
In 1952 he entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See and was sent as a secretary to the nunciature of Nicaragua. He was transferred in 1954 first as secretary and then as auditor to the apostolic delegation in Washington; in 1961, he was sent to the nunciature of India. In 1964 he was recalled to Rome and served a term in the Secretariat of State on the Council for Public Affairs, now the Section for Relations with States.
He was made apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine in 1969, and ordained a bishop that same year. After spending five years in Jerusalem he was appointed pro-nuncio to Cyprus and apostolic visitator to Greece. In 1974 he was transferred to Argentina as nuncio. He remained there until 1980, when he was appointed apostolic delegate to the United States. In March 1984, when official diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United States were established, he became pro-nuncio.
In 1990, he was called to Rome to serve as the pro-prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. He served as prefect of that congregation until 1999.
In 2001, he was the special papal envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority to deliver a personal message from John Paul II promoting a ceasefire and the resumption of peace talks. Two years later, he took a special message from the Pope to the U.S. presidency to illustrate the position and the initiatives undertaken by the Holy See to contribute to disarmament and peace in the Middle East.
He was made a cardinal in 1991.