Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, the retired successor to St John Paul II as archbishop of Kraków, died on Tuesday at the age of 89.
Just five days before his death, Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop to pray at the hospital where the cardinal was in a coma.
Meeting the bishops of Poland on July 27, Pope Francis said that he knew they all were worried about the ailing cardinal, even if they could no longer visit with him. “At least draw close,” the Pope told them; go to the hospital and “touch the wall as if to say, ‘Brother, I am near.’ To visit the sick is a work of mercy.”
In a message of condolence after the cardinal’s death, Pope Francis said he wanted to offer “a prayer of thanksgiving for the life and pastoral commitment of this well-deserving minister of the Gospel.”
“‘Jesus I trust in you’ — this episcopal motto guided his life and ministry,” the Pope said. The motto is taken from St Faustina Kowalka’s Divine Mercy devotion.
“With trust in divine mercy,” the cardinal fulfilled his ministry “as a father to the priests and faithful entrusted to his care,” the Pope said. “In a period of political and social transformations that were not easy, he guided the church in Kraków with wisdom,” working to promote respect for the dignity of every person and for the good of the church community as Poland transitioned from communist rule to democracy.
“I am grateful that providence made it possible for me to visit him during by recent trip to Kraków,” the Pope continued.
The cardinal suffered greatly at the end of his life, Pope Francis said, “but even in this trial, he remained a faithful witness of trusting in the goodness and mercy of God. That is how he will stay in my memory and prayer.”
Just a few months after becoming pope, St John Paul handpicked Cardinal Macharski to succeed him as Archbishop of Kraków. The late pope personally ordained him a bishop on the feast of Epiphany, on January 6, 1979, and named him to the College of Cardinals six months later.
Franciszek Macharski was born May 20, 1927. During World War II, when the city was under German occupation, he worked as a menial labourer, according to his Vatican biography. After the war, he entered the Kraków seminary and studied theology at Jagiellonian University. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1950.
After six years of parish work, he was sent to Fribourg, Switzerland, to earn his doctorate in pastoral theology. Returning to Kraków, he was named spiritual director of the seminary and taught pastoral theology. He became rector of the seminary in 1970. As a canon of the cathedral, he accompanied then-Archbishop Karol Wojtyla on trips to Canada, the United States, France, Germany and Italy. He retired as archbishop of Krakow in June 2005.
Cardinal Macharski’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 211 members, 112 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave.