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Oldest cardinal dies in Rome at age 98



Cardinal Jozef Tomko (L) making the sign of the cross with ashes on the forehead of Pope Francis during the Ash Wednesday mass opening Lent in 2017

I.Media - published on 08/08/22

At his last public appearance, Cardinal Tomko was greeted by Pope Francis with a joke. The cardinal spent two decades away from his country during Communism.

Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, died at the age of 98 in Rome on the morning of August 8, 2022, announced Vatican News. Born in 1924, he was one of the important figures of the Curia during the pontificate of John Paul II and was the oldest cardinal of the Sacred College.

He was hospitalized at the end of June after injuring a cervical vertebra (in the neck) though he was able to return home on August 6 with a Vatican nurse to assist him.

Cardinal Tomko’s last public appearance was April 30, when he accompanied the participants of a Slovakian pilgrimage to meet Pope Francis.

Pope Francis greeted his presence with a bit of humor: “I warmly greet Cardinal Jozef Tomko, whose presence makes us feel that the Church is a family that knows how to honor seniority as a gift. But I have a doubt — he seems younger than me!”

Servant of the Curia under John XXIII and Paul VI

Born in Udavské, Slovakia, near Košice, he entered the seminary at an early age, becoming a priest at 25 in 1949 after a brilliant period at the Roman universities of the Lateran and the Gregorian. Unable to return to his country, which had fallen into communist hands after the war, he became vice-rector of the Pontifical Nepomuk College – the seminary for Czechs and Slovaks in Rome – and of the adjoining boarding school in 1950, positions he held for 15 years.

In 1962, John XXIII appointed him to the Congregation of the Holy Office, the forerunner of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he became head of the doctrinal office in 1966. He was one of the special secretaries of the first synod in modern history in 1967.

In 1974, Paul VI appointed him Undersecretary of the Congregation for Bishops, and then, at the request of Pope John Paul II, he became Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops in 1979. He organized three synods during his six years of mission.

The ‘red pope’

In 1985, the Polish Pope appointed him, at the age of 61, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples after the sudden death of the former prefect. The same day, the Pope announced that he would create him a cardinal in May, making him the fourth Slovak cardinal in history. From then on, he was in charge of the diffusion of Catholicism in all countries that were not Christian.

During these years, he traveled a lot, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In 1989, just before the fall of the Wall, he returned for the first time to Slovakia – after 21 years of waiting – to consecrate a bishop from his country. This was one of the first signs of the change of era in the socialist republic.

After 16 years – a record – at the head of the Propaganda Fide, his resignation was accepted by John Paul II in 2001 at the age of 77. He did not retire, however, since he was then entrusted with the presidency of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, a position he would hold until 2007, during the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

He did not participate in the 2005 conclave, having passed the age limit. However, he continued to be active within the pontificate of Francis, participating in the commission of inquiry on Medjugorje between 2010 and 2014.

Pope FrancisRoman Curia
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