Italian cardinal known for optimistic pastoral approach, love of art

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Occasionally mentioned as a potential papal candidate, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of Florence, Italy, is known for his optimistic pastoral approach and his strong social teachings.

Italian Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of Florence is seen during a ceremony at his titular church of Sant' Andrea delle Fratte in Rome Nov. 30 2004. (CNS photo by Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

With a background in classics and art history, the 68-year-old Italian ministers in one of the world's most famous art cities and has made love of beauty a part of his pastoral ministry.

He is well known among Italy's cardinals and bishops after serving as general secretary of the Italian bishops' conference, 1995-2001. He currently serves as vice president of the Tuscan bishops' conference.

As a member of the pontifical councils for Social Communications and for the Laity, Cardinal Antonelli puts special emphasis on the role of lay people in the church.

As in most European cities, church attendance in Florence is relatively low, but he said the small number of "active and responsible faithful" who get personally involved in the life of the church is on the rise

"This phenomenon is unexpected" but is "a sign of a providential rebirth," he said in a December interview with the Italian daily, Il Tempo.

In the midst of the secularization that has taken hold across most of Europe, the cardinal praised Catholics who "pay splendid witness to prayer, charity, helping the poor, education, missionary courage and Christian joy."

"They make up a bright and credible sign of the presence of Christ the savior," he told the newspaper Toscana Oggi in a recent interview.

In the world of politics, the cardinal lamented the lack of political representation that fully reflects a Christian agenda.

Though "politics is about mediation and compromise" and "one can never be fully satisfied" in getting what one wants, "the Christian today may find himself in great difficulty because his vision of society is not fully promoted by either the major or minor political parties," he told Il Tempo.

Cardinal Antonelli, like most Italian bishops, was an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which the Italian government supported.

When the war began in March 2003, he and the bishops of Italy's Tuscany region issued a statement expressing their sadness and their disappointment that Pope John Paul II's repeated appeals against the war were ignored.

Cardinal Antonelli asked all the churches in his archdiocese to toll their bells in mourning the first night of the war and said his own opposition to military action in Iraq was "convinced, firm and passionate."

He invited people to come to a church in the center of the city and pray the rosary for peace with him and encouraged them to continue demonstrating their opposition to the war "in the squares and the churches, with our body and souls."

The cardinal has criticized the unbridled march of globalization, saying it causes a variety of negative effects.

In an interview in late 2002 with the Italian Catholic paper Avvenire, he said that if globalization was allowed to be driven by international financial interests "with the sole aim of making a profit" it would "produce extremely negative effects" such as economic inequality among peoples, a more consumerist and materialistic society, wasted resources and environmental degradation.

To counter such a trend, economic policy needs to be infused with an ethical standard that promotes "the dignity of the human person and the fundamental rights to life, health, nutrition, education, work, housing and freedom of conscience," he said.

Also, "political action must aim to build a framework of solidarity on a planetary scale," and laws must be enacted that "adequately govern the global market," he said.

Though in tune with world affairs, Cardinal Antonelli has always been quick to address pastoral problems on the local level.

In a 1990 pastoral letter, for example, he condemned superstition in all its forms.

More than 90 percent of Italians are Catholic, yet millions read their horoscopes each day and turn to tarot card readers, and many request exorcisms

"Superstition abounds where faith and religious instruction are scarce," he wrote in 1990.

In the early 1990s, as head of the Archdiocese of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, he wrote a pastoral letter that reaffirmed church rules against the performing of exorcisms without the explicit permission of the bishop.

When the Vatican issued a revised Rite of Exorcism in 1999, he told a Vatican press conference that cases of demonic possession are very rare, but"today people look for the devil everywhere, except where he really is -- in sin."

In almost every archdiocesan celebration in which he has been involved, Cardinal Antonelli has spoken of "the unique religious and civil vocation" of Florence as a treasury of religious art visited by millions of Christians and non-Christians each year.

"If being a bishop is beautiful, here in Florence it takes on a special beauty," he said in his Il Tempo interview.

In a June 2003 pastoral letter, he said each Catholic in Florence has an obligation to share the religious significance of the works of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael with the tourists who come to see them.

Born Nov. 18, 1936, in Todi, Ennio Antonelli entered the minor seminary in his home town and finished his high school studies at the regional minor seminary in Assisi.

Sent to Rome's major seminary, he studied philosophy and theology at Lateran University and was ordained to the priesthood in 1960.

While serving as chaplain to a variety of parish and diocesan groups in Todi, he also earned a degree in Latin and Greek from the University of Perugia in 1966, followed by a teaching certificate in history, art history and philosophy.

He taught Greek, Latin and art history in high schools in Umbria, then from 1968 to 1983 served as an instructor of dogmatic theology at the Theological Institute of Assisi and in diocesan programs for the theological education of the laity throughout the Umbria region.

He was named bishop of Gubbio in 1982 and archbishop of Perugia-Citta della Pieve in 1988.

In 1995, Pope John Paul named him general secretary of the Italian bishops' conference, a full-time job for which he had to relocate to Rome. He was named archbishop of Florence in 2001 and was elevated in 2003 to the College of Cardinals.


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