Pope Francis mourns Brazilian cardinal who died of COVID-19 complications

Cardinal José Freire Falcão Brazilian Cardinal José Freire Falcão (1925-2021). | Antônio Cruz/ABr - Agência Brasil via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0 BR).

Pope Francis expressed his sorrow Monday at the death of a Brazilian cardinal who was “passionate about evangelization.”

The pope paid tribute to Cardinal José Freire Falcão, the emeritus archbishop of Brasília, in a telegram issued Sept. 27, the day after the 95-year-old cardinal died of COVID-19 complications.

In a message to Archbishop Paulo Cezar Costa, the current archbishop of Brasília, the pope said: “I entrust the beloved cardinal to the mercy of God, remembering his precious collaboration in the different organisms of the Holy See and my meetings with this pastor who was passionate about evangelization.”

He added that Falcão was “solicitous in putting the gifts received from the Lord at the service of the People of God and his brother bishops.”

“I give thanks to the Father in heaven for his episcopal ministry in which he lavished himself with generosity in leading the people entrusted to him along the paths of the Gospel, with the same zeal with which he carried out his previous services,” the pope wrote.

The National Bishops’ Conference of Brazil (CNBB) noted that Falcão was the second Brazilian cardinal to have died after testing positive for the coronavirus. It said that the first was Cardinal Eusébio Oscar Scheid, the archbishop emeritus of Rio de Janeiro, who died on Jan. 13 at the age of 88.

The bishops’ conference said that Falcão was taken to Santa Lúcia Hospital in Brazil’s federal capital on Sept. 17 as a precautionary measure after his positive test. His condition deteriorated on Sept. 24 and he died on Sept. 26.

The cardinal is due to be buried in the crypt of the Cathedral of Brasília, which was designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and completed in 1970.

José Freire Falcão was born on Oct. 23, 1925, in Ererê, in Brazil’s Northeast Region. He was ordained a priest in Limoeiro do Norte, in the state of Ceará, on June 19, 1949.

In April 1967, he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Limoeiro do Norte, succeeding as bishop in August of that year. He took the episcopal motto “Serve in humility.”

In 1971, he was named archbishop of Teresina, an archdiocese in the state of Piauí, also in the Northeast Region.

Pope John Paul II selected him as archbishop of Brasília, in the Central-West Region, on Feb. 15, 1984, when he was 58 years old.

An official biography provided by the Holy See press office said that “he dedicated his every moment to the development of the ecclesial communities entrusted to him, motivated by his great desire to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, and by a sincere and profound love of the Church and fellow man.”

He was created a cardinal by John Paul II on June 28, 1988.

He held several significant positions at the Brazilian bishops’ conference and was active in the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM).

He retired as archbishop of Brasília on Jan. 28, 2004, at the age of 78. He was succeeded by Archbishop João Bráz de Aviz, who is now a cardinal serving as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Pope Francis concluded his condolence telegram by entrusting “to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary” Cardinal Falcão, his loved ones, colleagues, and Catholics of the Brasília archdiocese.

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