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My friend Carlo Maria Martini

2012 September 3
by Gordon Reid

Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini has died and I mourn him not just as a great  leader of the Church but also as a friend.

Soon after I arrived to take up residence in his See City of Milan in the year 2000, Archbishop Martini extended a friendly welcome. I moved from being Dean of Gibraltar to fill two vacancies, that of Anglican Archdeacon of Italy & Malta and also Chaplain of All Saints’ Anglican Church in Milan. And I had been in my new apartment only a week or two when I received a small  card inviting me to dinner in the Archbishop’s palace. That was surprising enough, but the card was hand-written and signed by the Cardinal Archbishop himself.

The reason for the swiftness of the invitation, I discovered later, was that I had visited the Duomo for Vespers soon after my arrival and had met the Archpriest, Don Luigi, who welcomed me to the city and must have reported my arrival to the Archbishop. Nevertheless, with over 1000 parishes in  his Archdiocese, it was an act of great (but, as I discovered, typical) kindness for him to have me to a meal so soon.

From that first meal grew a friendship that I treasured. My Italian was at first rusty, so we spoke English most of the time, since the Archbishop’s English was impeccable. He spoke in a deep, gravelly voice, and could maintain a deadpan face even when making some irreverent or humorous remark. He had a great sense of humor, and would always greet me with “Ah, here we have Don Gordon”, stressing the two “dons”. He was very fond of the Church of England and asked me frequently to some of the great Ambrosian-rite Masses in the Cathedral, where he would refer to me as the representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and announce that I was sitting in the “cathedra anglicana” – I never revealed this fact to Archbishop Carey!

I remember one such Mass vividly. It was a Requiem for the 114 people killed in an SAS plane crash at Milan airport in 2001. The Duomo was filled to bursting (several thousand people) and Archbishop Martini was the Celebrant of the Mass. He asked me to read the Gospel in English, since half the victims had been Lutherans or Anglicans, whose Requiems has been the day before in Scandinavia. I will never forget the procession up into the enormously high pulpit, and seeing the vast sea of faces, way down below. Acolytes and thurifer had accompanied me into the pulpit which is enormous, and this was the first time I had handled an Ambrosian-rite thurible, which has no cover to it. This produces much more smoke than the Roman-rite ones, but it made me a little wary of swinging it about too much!

Archbishop Martini went by, on his way over to the pulpit to preach his incredibly moving sermon, and he embraced me as we passed and whispered “Well done”. In a Mass as emotionally charged as that one was, this was a typical humble gesture, from a man who bore his greatness lightly.

I have met a few saints in my life, and Carlo Maria, Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, was one of them.


5 Responses leave one →
  1. The Rev. Ethan Alexander Jewett permalink
    September 4, 2012

    a lovely tribute, Fr. Reid.

  2. Martyn Gough permalink
    September 5, 2012

    that so sums up thr man. I was in Milan when the Princess of Wales died and his kindness and thoughtfulness was wondeful. Out in the lakes i was present at a dedication of S. Maximillian Kolbe and was told via Don Luigi that sitting in the congregation was not acceptable and to bring a cotta and stole.
    it was the intervention of the Cardinal that saw All Sainist Milan be given a wonderful temporay home during the rebuild.
    If only it had been Papa Martini…

  3. Sandford MacLean permalink
    September 5, 2012

    Thank you, Father, for posting this moving tribute. May he rest in peace.

    Jesu mercy, Mary pray.

  4. Al Holland permalink
    September 7, 2012

    Bravo Gordon!

  5. Daniella Engel permalink
    September 8, 2012

    Thank you for a beautiful article, kindly sent to me by William Mounsey. All Saints’ Milan continues to benefit from Martini’s ecumenical views and actions, but his death is nevertheless a sad loss to the Catholic church and well beyond.

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