(Rome) The Slovak Curial Cardinal Jozef Tomko died yesterday in Rome at the age of 98. He was the oldest living cardinal in the world.
Tomko died at his home in Rome, where he was being cared for by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. After being admitted to the Pontifical University Hospital Gemelli on June 25 for a cervical spine injury, he spent six weeks in the hospital and was cared for at home from Saturday August 6. During his hospital stay, he received a visit from Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, VaticanNews reported.
In a November 2000 interview with Inside The Vatican Magazine, it was revealed that it was Jozef Tomko who had advised Pope John Paul II to treat Russia differently than Our Lady of Fatima would have liked, at the 1984 consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in St. Peter's Square. Although Tomko's name was not mentioned in the magazine, he was later identified as the advisor mentioned. Apparently, Tomko, who was made a cardinal the following year, acted out of supposed "prudence" so as not to irritate the Soviet bear.
Jozef Tomko, born in 1924, was studying in Rome at the end of the war. Because of the communist takeover of power in the Czechoslovak Republic, which was reestablished after the Second World War, he remained in the Eternal City, where he was ordained a priest in 1949 and received a triple doctorate from the Pontifical Gregorian University: doctorate in theology, canon law and social sciences.
Coat of Arms of Cardinal Tomko
From 1950 he was Vice Rector of the Pontifical Collegium Nepomucenum. After the First World War, all candidates for the priesthood from the Czechoslovak Republic studied there, as did the German Bohemians and German Moravians until 1938. Since the separation of Slovakia, the Czech Bishops' Conference has been responsible for the facility. The Nepomucenum, named after John Nepomuk, the Czech saint best known in the universal Church, became an important center for the persecuted Church behind the Iron Curtain and a repository for information on the situation in the communist states, particularly Czechoslovakia, under Tomko.
From 1959 Tomko also worked at the Roman Curia, first for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then for the Congregation for Bishops. In 1965 he was withdrawn from the Nepomucenum due to the reorientation of Vatican foreign policy. From 1970 taught as a professor at the Gregoriana. In 1979, Pope John Paul II, who had known the exiled Slovak for years, made him titular archbishop and appointed him general secretary of the synod of bishops. This promotion of Tomko, who was described by communist news services as a “staunch anti-communist”, was one of several signals John Paul II sent towards the Eastern bloc at the very beginning of his pontificate. All in all, Tomko was considered a “close confidant” of the Polish Pope, as the secret service of the then People’s Republic of Hungary reported to Budapest.
In retrospect it is interesting that even Tomko, a man who was so well informed about the situation in the Czech and Slovak churches, was only a limited supporter of the underground Church there. He harbored doubts that the underground priests could reach the majority of the population, limited in the cities and scarcely in the countryside.
Finally, in 1985, the Polish Pope created him a cardinal and appointed him Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fide), a task he held for three terms. From 2001 he became President of the Pontifical Committee for the World Eucharistic Congresses.
Under Benedict XVI due to old age, Tomko no longer held any active posts in the Curia, but he was the Pope's special envoy on several occasions. Although Tomko was a cardinal for 37 years, he never participated in a conclave as a papal elector.
The cardinal was a member of both the 2010-2012 active Ruini Commission investigating the Medjugorje phenomenon and the Commission investigating Vatileaks. Both commissions were established by Pope Benedict XVI.
With the death of Cardinal Jozef Tomko, Cardinal Alexandre do Nascimento, born in 1925 and Archbishop Emeritus of Luanda in Angola, is now the oldest living cardinal in the world.
Requiescat in pace.
John Paul II sprinkles ashes on Cardinal Tomko's head on Ash Wednesday 1998.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi