Expert on Eastern Christianity Dies

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Czech Cardinal Tomas Spidlik, an expert in Eastern Christian spirituality and a famous preacher, died April 16 at the age of 90.

The cardinal died at Rome’s Centro Aletti, a community he founded in 1991 to bring together Jesuits, religious and laypeople involved in art and Eastern Christian culture and spirituality.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, presided over his funeral Mass April 20 in St. Peter’s Basilica and Pope Benedict XVI officiated at the rites of final commendation.

Pope Benedict told mourners that Cardinal Spidlik had lived through difficult times, growing up “without losing his faith and always preserving a lively sense of humor.”

The cardinal chose as his motto “With all the heart” from the first of the Ten Commandments because “he wanted to live his life within the commandment of love,” the pope said. In addition, “in Eastern spirituality, the heart represents the seat of prayer” and of communication with God and with all men and women, the pope said.

In a telegram to the superior general of the Jesuits, Pope Benedict said he was “profoundly grateful” for Cardinal Spidlik’s “solid faith, paternal kindness and intense work” in the fields of theology and culture.

From 1951 until his death, the cardinal worked with Vatican Radio’s Czech program to offer a weekly reflection on the Sunday Bible readings; when the former Czechoslovakia was under communist rule, his weekly sermons were broadcast into his homeland.

In an interview shortly before his death, Cardinal Spidlik said his work of combining theology, art and spirituality was motivated by a desire to share “the beauty of salvation (and) a theological vision where a symbolic and liturgical approach prevails and where the visual image testifies to the faith on an equal level with what is spoken and written.”

Born Dec. 17, 1919, in the Czech city of Boskovice, he moved to Brno in 1938 to begin his university studies in philosophy. The Nazis occupied the region and closed the university in 1939.

In 1940, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Benesov, near Prague, but the Nazis took over the building in 1942 and the novices were forced to move to Velehrad.

According to the Centro Aletti Web site, the cardinal’s studies “were interrupted several times for forced youth labor, imposed first by German soldiers, then Romanians, then the Russians.”

As soon as World War II ended, he was sent to the Netherlands to study philosophy, and he was ordained to the priesthood there in 1949.

Two years later, he was sent to Rome and began working at Vatican Radio.

In 1955 he earned his doctorate at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and began teaching Eastern and patristic spiritual theology at various universities in Rome, as well as conducting the research and writing the books that would lead to his being recognized as one of the world’s experts in the spirituality of the Christian East.

Pope John Paul II named him a cardinal in 2003 and after the pope’s death, the College of Cardinals asked him to give one of the two spiritual talks that would prepare them to enter the conclave and elect the next pope.

Cardinal Spidlik’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 181 members, 108 of whom are under age 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave.

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