VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 5, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is mourning the death of Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, the retired president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and longtime friend of Pope John Paul II. The cardinal, a native of Poland, died Saturday at the age of 87.
A papal note, sent to Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the Archbishop of Cracow, Poland, expressed the Pope’s condolences to the cardinal’s family and the archdiocese.
“I recall with a grateful spirit his precious collaboration with the Holy See in the service of six pontiffs, dedicating himself especially to the Christian animation of the field of social communications,” the Holy Father said.
“Linked by bonds of profound friendship to Blessed John Paul II,” the Benedict XVI continued, “he leaves behind him the memory of a life lived in consistent and generous adherence to his own vocation as a pious and zealous priest, who enriched his ministry by the acceptance of infirmity with evangelical resignation.”
The Pontiff expressed “to his family and those who knew and esteemed him, and to this diocesan community of Krakow, who counted him among its most illustrious sons, sentiments of sincere condolence.”
He also assured his “fervid prayers” so that “the Lord welcome this pastor, faithful to the Gospel and the Church, into eternal joy and peace.”
The biography of Andrzej Maria Deskur — born on Feb. 29, 1924 in Sancygniow, Poland, into a Catholic family of French origin — is linked by many decisive episodes to the life of John Paul II.
In 1978, in the weeks preceding the election of the Polish Pope, the then Bishop Deskur, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, organized a series of dinners in his Vatican apartment, in the Palace of St. Charles, to introduce Cardinal Karol Wojtyla.
On Sept. 13, the day before the conclave, Bishop Deskur suffered an incapacitating brain hemorrhage that left him paralyzed on the left side for the rest of his life. Despite news reports of his death, and the many Requiem Masses that had been offered for him, he recovered his brilliance and good humor, though he could no longer move as before.
John Paul II visited Bishop Deskur in the Gemelli Polyclinic the day after he was elected Pope and, according to eyewitnesses, he said to the hospital staff: “He taught me to be Pope.”
In a letter addressed to Bishop Deskur’s mother only 10 days after his election, John Paul II said that his dear friend “prepared me for what was going to happen on Oct. 16; he taught me what the Holy See is in reality, and facilitated the contacts with Church leaders of Europe and the whole world.”
In 1945, the cardinal obtained a doctorate in law from the Catholic University of Cracow, the period during which he was secretary-general of an important post-War Polish student organization called “Bratniak.”
He entered the Cracow seminary and was ordained priest on Aug. 20, 1950. He received a doctorate in theology from the University of Fribourg and, after two years of pastoral activity and study in France and Switzerland, was called to Rome in September 1952 to work in the State Secretariat.
During this period he worked as undersecretary of the Pontifical Commission of Cinematography, Radio and Television (1954-1964), secretary of the Preparatory Commission of the Press Secretariat during the Second Vatican Council (1960-1962), expert for the Council’s Assembly (1962-1965), and member of the conciliar Commissions for Bishops, the Clergy, the Laity, the Press and Entertainment.
In 1973, he was appointed president of the Pontifical Commission (now Council) for Social Communications. He was ordained a bishop in 1974.
On Feb. 15, 1980, John Paul II appointed him archbishop and president emeritus of the Pontifical Commission.
Cardinal Deskur contributed to numerous congresses and meetings of professionals of the press, radio, television and cinema, visiting 70 countries around the world. Among other activities, he was one of the promoters of “Radio Veritas” for the countries of Asia and Oceania.
He was created cardinal by John Paul II in the consistory of May 25, 1985. Since 1996, he was president of the Pontifical Academy of the Immaculate Conception.
The funeral of Cardinal Deskur will be held at the Altar of the Chair in the Vatican Basilica on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 11:30 am.
With his death, there are 193 cardinals, 114 of whom are electors.