Cardinal Ezzati was born in 1942 in a small town of northeastern Italy, and completed his secondary education at a school run by the Salesians of Saint John Bosco. He chose to enter seminary for the institute of consecrated life at 17, and opted for a novitiate outside of Italy.
“When I was sent to Chile, I made of the country my life option. I am of Italian origins and of Chilean vocation,” he has said.
He made his first profession as a Salesian in 1961, and then studied philosophy and education while in Chile. Later, he studied theology at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome, and religious education in France.
He made perpetual vows in 1966, and was ordained a priest for the Salesians in 1970.
After his ordination, he served for two years in a pastoral mission in Chile, and from 1973 to 1977 was rector of the Salesian College, and superior of the community, in Concepcion. He later served as rector of the Salesian seminary in Santiago, and taught at the Catholic University of Chile.
While in Santiago, he co-authored a book in 1979 which was criticized by the Chilean minister for education as being a betrayal of the nation.
At the time, Chile was ruled under the right-wing military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which lasted 17 years and left more than 3,000 dead or missing.
Cardinal Ezzati has said, “the minister considered that the book was communist and subversive, but if I read it today I find it so innocent. We maintained that money had to be used more in social issues than in armaments; that the objection of conscience was a fundamental right; that peace could not be built with arms, but with human development.”
At the Salesians' general chapter in 1984, Cardinal Ezzati was appointed head of the Chilean province, and then served as vice-president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Religious of Chile.
From 1991 to 1996 he worked at the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life.
In 1996, Cardinal Ezzati was consecrated Bishop of Valdivia, in southern Chile, where took took the episcopal motto, “to evangelize.” He served there until he was appointed, in 2001, an auxiliary bishop of Santiago.
Cardinal Ezzati was transferred to the Archdiocese of Concepcion in 2006. There, he showed himself to have great social concerns, acting as a mediator between laborers and employers, and opposing an increasing role of the state in education.
He was entrusted as one of the five apostolic visitors to the Legion of Christ in 2009: he carried out the order's investigation in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela.
In 2010, he was appointed Archbishop of Santiago, where he has worked with youth and prisoners. He disbanded a priestly association, the Priestly Union of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, after its founder, Fr. Fernando Karadima, was found to have been guilty of sexual abuse.
He also established a new association of consecrated life for a group of women who had left Regnum Christi, a lay association linked to the Legion of Christ.
Cardinal Ezzati was elevated along 19 other bishops in the Feb. 22 conclave; he is one of four Latin Americans – he was joined by the archbishops of Managua, Buenos Aires, and Rio de Janeiro.
According to Diario Uchile, shortly before the consistory, he said: “I have asked Mary, Help of Christians, for her maternal protection, and St. John Bosco to keep me very simple, and close to the people.”
Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, who is a Salesian and the Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, was elevated to the college of cardinals by Pope Francis in a Feb. 22 consistory, at the age of 72.