Cardinal Colasuonno Dies; Helped Forge Relations With Russia

Nuncio Fostered Rebirth of Church in Former Soviet Lands

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 1, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Francesco Colasuonno, one of the architects of diplomatic relations between Russia and the Vatican, died Saturday. He was 78.



John Paul II appointed him in March 1990 as the Vatican's official representative to the Soviet Union, with the rank of apostolic nuncio.

The nuncio was familiar with the situation in the Communist countries. He had been appointed nuncio in Yugoslavia in 1985, and the Pope had sent him on special missions to Prague, Budapest, Bucharest, Sofia and Warsaw.

During Archbishop Colasuonno's four years of diplomatic service in Moscow, he also helped foster the rebirth of the Catholic Church in former Soviet territories.

He traveled throughout the post-Soviet republics, contacting the small Catholic communities that had maintained their fidelity to the Pope during 70 years of repression.

When he arrived in Vladivostok, for example, not knowing how to contact the Catholics, he simply walked the streets wearing his cassock so that people would see him. Today, in that city of the Far East, the Catholic Church has been reborn.

On Nov. 12, 1994, Archbishop Colasuonno was named apostolic nuncio in Italy, and was thus spared the tensions that have arisen with the Russian Orthodox Church. John Paul II made him a cardinal on Feb. 12, 1998. The cardinal was nuncio emeritus to Italy at the time of his death.

When learning of his death, the Pope sent two telegrams, one to Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari, and the other to Teresa Colasuonno, the cardinal's sister, to underline the service to the Church carried out by Cardinal Colasuonno, especially in Eastern Europe.

Francesco Colasuonno was born in 1925 in Grumo, in the Bari Archdiocese. His funeral services will be presided over on Monday in his birthplace by Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

The College of Cardinals now has 167 members, including 111 electors under age 80 who could vote in a conclave for a new pope.