Portuguese cardinal has two passions: saints and soccer

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the rest of the world's cardinals were keeping quiet before the April 18 conclave, Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins could not help but be drawn into a short conversation with a reporter about one of his passions: soccer.

Archbishop Jose Saraiva Martins is a native of Portugal. (CNS file photo)

As his name started popping up on lists of possible papal candidates, the stalwart supporter of Rome's Lazio soccer club took questions about his team.

While the media reported on his pleasure that Lazio had taken a turn for the better, they did not speculate what it would mean if he were elected pope -- and bishop of Rome -- and cheered unabashedly for Lazio and not Roma in a city of seriously divided soccer loyalties.

The only thing the 73-year-old cardinal likes talking about more than soccer is saints.

His personal warmth and his focus on holiness, combined with his contacts with missionaries around the world and his experience in the Congregation for Catholic Education have drawn the notice of the media and of his fellow cardinals.

A member of the Claretian order, Cardinal Saraiva Martins has a sister who is a nun and a missionary in Angola.

Pope John Paul II appointed him head of the Congregation for Saints' Causes in May 1998.

While some people criticized the fast pace with which Pope John Paul canonized and beatified Catholics, Cardinal Saraiva Martins kept pulling out somewhat obscure names from the roll of new saints to remind Catholics that all of them are called to live holy lives.

"The church would be aiming way too low if it did not propose as the goal of every Christian the radicalism of the Sermon on the Mount," he said at a conference in December.

Many of the more than 1,300 individuals beatified and more than 480 people canonized by the pope were "common Christians who, in their concrete situations, lived the Gospel fully. They are not geniuses, but normal women and men who, in imitating Christ, lived their lives heroically."

During the cardinals' discussion before entering the conclave April 18, one frequent topic of conversation reportedly was the extent to which Pope John Paul's preaching of the Gospel and Catholic morality had sunk into the minds and hearts of the young people who adored him.

Asked about that in October 2003, Cardinal Saraiva Martins described the pope as an itinerant evangelizer like St. Paul, as "the pope of holiness" and as "the pope of young people."

True, he said, for many young people today attraction to the pope "may be just admiration, but the more they admire him, the more they will try to live his message and strive for holiness."

Preparing to walk the path to holiness, he said, takes some people more time than others, especially if they are bombarded with messages saying the path to holiness is not the path to happiness.

"We must each translate this call into our own language, find how to live it in our own lives," Cardinal Saraiva Martins said.

The cardinals' preconclave discussion also reportedly included an exchange of views of collegiality, how the local bishops share responsibility and decision-making with the pope and the Roman Curia.

According to his official biography, Cardinal Saraiva Martins has published several papers on the question in theological journals, urging more concrete expressions of the fact that collegiality and the primacy of the pope are complementary and that neither the bishops nor the pope -- and with him, the Curia -- can work alone.

Named to the College of Cardinals in 2001, he has presided over an extraordinarily busy period in the life of the congregation responsible for scrutinizing and shepherding the causes of potential saints.

Yet, speaking to reporters in 1999, he said the Vatican has not become a "saint factory." Factories, he said, "produce a series of things which are always the same."

Besides the obvious fact of honoring people, not things, he said, the Vatican is recognizing the holiness of a wide variety of men, women and children who were made saints by the grace of God, not by a Vatican office.

A year later, discussing year-2000 celebrations, he said Pope John Paul obviously saw a pastoral value in offering modern Catholics new models of holiness.

"It should not be forgotten that one of the principal themes of his Petrine ministry from the beginning has been the valuing of holiness, convinced as he is that 'the history of the church is a history of holiness,'" the archbishop said.

Recognizing holy men, women and children from all over the world demonstrates that "holiness knows no geographical or cultural boundaries and has no racial prejudices," he said.

Cardinal Saraiva Martins has lived and worked in Rome for more than 25 years and served a 10-year stint as secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education before being named to the sainthood congregation.

Pope John Paul named him an archbishop in 1988 when he appointed the Portuguese prelate to the education office. As secretary he served under two congregation prefects: U.S. Cardinal William W. Baum and Italian Cardinal Pio Laghi, former nuncio to the United States.

One of the major projects of the education congregation during Cardinal Saraiva Martins' tenure was the drafting, discussion and redrafting of norms for Catholic colleges and universities.

Even after Pope John Paul published the document, "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," in 1990, Cardinal Saraiva Martins continued to be involved in the work of encouraging national bishops' conferences to implement the norms in a way that would guarantee the Catholic identity of church-sponsored universities.

Shortly after the document was published, the cardinal said that while some bishops and educators had concerns about specific norms invoked in the document, "everybody agreed on the scope and the aim" of ensuring Catholic universities were identifiably Catholic.

Born Jan. 6, 1932, in Gagos, Portugal, Jose Saraiva Martins entered the Claretians and took vows in 1953.

He studied philosophy in Spain, then traveled to Rome, where he studied theology at Gregorian and Angelicum universities.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1957, he was named a professor of dogmatic theology at Rome's Urbanian University, which specializes in preparing priests, religious and laity for work in the church's mission territories.

In addition to teaching at the university, he edited several large collections of essays on evangelization and culture and on preaching the Gospel in the modern world.

From 1974 to 1977, he was dean of Urbanian's theology faculty, and from 1977 until his appointment to the education congregation he was rector of the university.

 

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