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Italian Cardinal Biffi dies at 87

Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, who died on Saturday (CNS)

Italian Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, the retired archbishop of Bologna, died on July 11 at the age of 87.

Pope Francis, offering his condolences, said the cardinal guided his flock with “zeal and wisdom” when he served as auxiliary bishop of Milan from 1976 to 1984 and when he served as archbishop of Bologna until his retirement in 2003.

The Pope noted the cardinal’s “untiring service” to the Church by offering “entire generations” a human and Christian formation with his teachings and writings, which were particularly effective thanks to the cardinal’s “direct and topical” manner of speaking.

The outspoken cardinal was chosen to lead a number of spiritual retreats, including to the Roman Curia in 2007 and in 2000 for the jubilee year.

In fact, at the end of the Lenten retreat in 2007, Benedict XVI thanked Cardinal Biffi for preaching with realism, concreteness and a sense of humour. He said the cardinal demonstrated at times a “theology that is a little audacious.”

In one reflection, according to Vatican Radio, the cardinal had said Christians who are tempted to set aside their belief in Christ as the only saviour in order to promote dialogue with others are being tempted by the Antichrist.

If Christians set aside their belief that salvation comes only through Christ, he said, they may find dialogue with others easier, but they will have denied their obligation to share the Gospel and will have placed themselves “on the side of the Antichrist.”

During a meditation service for Vatican officials in 2000, he said the holy year’s goal of inner conversion required an almost superhuman effort to look at one’s own faults and not just those of others.

The cardinal said true repentance involves self-humiliation and a new awareness of returning to God, which is why repentance is “practically non-existent” outside of Christianity.

However, the cardinal provoked criticism from some when he urged the Italian government to favour Catholic immigrants over those of other religions, particularly Muslims.

Policies regulating immigration must also consider “saving the identity of the nation” and should, therefore, favour Catholic newcomers over Muslim immigrants, he wrote in a pastoral letter in 2000.

Born June 13, 1928, in Milan, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1950. Blessed Pope Paul VI named him auxiliary bishop of Milan in 1975 and St John Paul II named him archbishop of Bologna in 1984. The late pope gave him his red hat the next year.

His death leaves the College of Cardinals with 221 members, 120 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.