Carlo Maria Martini as remembered by Piero Coda

Carlo Maria Martini as remembered by Piero Coda

"A man of God for our times"

Carlo Maria Martini


"I was a very green theology student participating in a Convention at Rocca di Papa.  As one of the speakers, I had the opportunity to get to know Cardinal Maria Martini, Bible scholar of international fame.  Not much later, came the unexpected published news of his nomination as archbishop of Milan, a role that had among others, belonged to St. Ambrose and St. Charles Borromeo.  The choice made by John Paul II was greeted by unanimous applause.


Very soon, the teaching and the testimony of Martini began to make history by finding a way into people’s hearts.  Not always by gaining the consensus of all, it’s true, but leaving an indelible trace in a growing number of men and women, of all extractions and of all religious faiths and convictions. We could see this by the vast echo raised everywhere by his death and from the great participation at his funeral. 


But who was Cardinal Martini?  The answer may appear anything but easy, seeing the stature of his person and the versatility of the role he played on innumerable fronts.  But it is also true that the answer is very simple and immediate: Martini has been a man of God in our times and for our times.  This conviction has slowly grown within me through encounters in which, on different occasions I have had the gift and the joy to live with him during these years.


In May of 1989, the first European Ecumenical Assembly was celebrated at Basilea.  Martini was president of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe.  I was a member of the Italian Catholic delegation.  I remember the impression I had of the style with which Martini presided, when his turn came, at the Assembly.  On the day of the inauguration he greeted me and told me of his desire to meet with me.   It was the first of one to one dialogues.  We spoke of Europe, of ecumenism, of how to approach modernity. I had followed with interest the publication of his pastoral letters   that were a breath of fresh air.  But, surprising me, he also said he had read the first book I had written about the centrality of the topic dealing with: The Proclamation and the Testimony of Jesus Forsaken and of the Risen Lord, and in him, of God who is Trinity in the History of Today. 


In 1995 the Church in Italy was involved in its third National Ecclesial Convention, in Palermo.  Martini was one of the protagonists of the previous Convention in Loreto ten years before: a difficult moment, so much so that there had been insinuations of a divergence of opinions between Martini and the Pope.


I personally realized that the difference in sensibility, as well as in the pastoral line, if there had been any, hadn’t in any way ruined the unity between them.  Because it was deep and real, this communion had always been animated by freedom of spirit, sincerity, and long-sightedness, on the path traced by the charism of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In this same light should also be seen his convinced adherence with Vatican II, not as a patrimony left behind us, but as a compass to direct our journey forward.


At Gallarate, in the spacious and serene home of the elderly Jesuit fathers, I had my last encounter with Cardinal Martini, sadly, in uncertain health conditions.  It was a brief encounter, His eyes were clear, his words almost imperceptible but warm and luminous. 


We spoke also of Chiara Lubich and of Sophia University Institute, for the inauguration of which he had sent a hand written greeting: “Sophia is an important thing, he said, which Chiara has put in your hands for the Church.”  I left him with a hug.  I carried away with me the certainty of having touched, with my hands, the discreet but unmistakable presence of God whom we glimpse in the light and darkness of our lives, through the life and words of His friends."


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