Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, Skilled Papal Emissary, Dies at 96

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He would, however, go on to make his name as a Vatican power broker.

In 1984 John Paul II summoned Cardinal Etchegaray to Rome once again, this time as a member of the Curia. From that perch, he became an influential member of the Vatican leadership, heading both the charitable arm Cor Unum and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He was also entrusted with overseeing the committee in charge of the church’s Jubilee year observances in 2000.

His friendship with John Paul deepened, as did the pope’s reliance on his diplomatic skills. He was sent to China, where the local Catholic community struggled with the Communist Party’s efforts to control the local churches, four times between 1980 and 2003.

John Paul also sent him to Cuba, in 1989.

At the time, the Castro regime still proclaimed Cuba officially atheist. But it was slowly growing more accommodating to Catholicism, which maintained deep roots there. The cardinal received a nativity scene as a present from Castro and then celebrated a Mass attended by thousands in Havana.

“What message should I take to the pope?” he asked the crowd, which replied: “To come! To come!”

Nine years later, John Paul did. And Cardinal Etchegaray kept the nativity scene in his living room.

“He was very proud of it, and he showed it to everyone who came to visit,” Andrea Gagliarducci, a Catholic writer and friend, said in an interview.

Cardinal Etchegaray’s missions also brought him to Iran, Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Russia.

No immediate family members survive.

He officially retired in 1998, but he kept traveling as a papal envoy. In 2003 he flew to Baghdad for secret talks with Saddam Hussein in an effort to avoid a war.

“One must never lose hope in peace, until the very end,” he told a French radio station at the time, “especially if you are a believer.”


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