ROME — A seasoned and successful Vatican diplomat and expert in heraldry, Italian Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo died Nov. 19 in Rome at age 92.
Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolence Nov. 20 to the cardinal’s sister, Adriana Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, expressing his “sincere admiration” for the cardinal, “who lived with fidelity his long and fruitful priesthood and episcopacy at the service of the Gospel and the Holy See.”
As a Vatican diplomat, the pope said, the cardinal “dedicated himself with wisdom to the good of the people” in the countries he served. And, as archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the cardinal strengthened the “spiritual vitality” of the basilica and its “ecumenical vocation” as the burial place of the apostle.
Named apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine in 1990, he was instrumental in establishing diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel in 1993; he became the Vatican’s first nuncio to Israel and held the post until 1998.
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, vice dean of the College of Cardinals, was to celebrate his funeral Mass Nov. 21 in St. Peter’s Basilica. Francis was to officiate over the final commendation.
He was born Aug. 27, 1925, in Turin, Italy, to a noble European family. His father, Giuseppe, an Italian army officer, was one of the 335 people executed in 1944 by the Nazis in the Ardeatine caves outside of Rome in reprisal for an ambush of Nazi soldiers.
The cardinal’s mother, Amalia, was one of the first women named by Blessed Paul VI to be an official observer at the Second Vatican Council.
At the time, then-Monsignor Montezemolo was half a world away, serving as secretary of the Vatican nunciature in Japan. At a conference in 2015, he said that just before the third session of the council began in 1964, he opened a copy of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and saw a headline that the pope had decided to name some women as council observers.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘Now women are even entering the council!'” he recounted in a tone that indicated he had not completely approved of the idea. “Then I read the names, and the first woman mentioned was my mother!”
Before becoming a priest, he earned a degree in architecture. With his artistic background and expertise in heraldry, he designed the coat of arms for Pope Benedict XVI after he was elected pope in April 2005, and his critique of Francis’s coat of arms is generally accepted as the reason slight modifications were made to the design in the first weeks of Francis’s pontificate.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1954 and entered the Vatican’s diplomatic service after working in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace from 1972 until 1977, first as undersecretary, then as secretary.
Named an archbishop in 1977, he was appointed nuncio to Papua New Guinea and apostolic delegate in the Solomon Islands. In 1980, he was named nuncio to Honduras and Nicaragua, and six years later he became nuncio to Uruguay.
After his eight years representing the Vatican in the Holy Land, he returned to Italy in 1998 to serve as nuncio to Italy and San Marino. He retired in 2001 at the age of 75.
But four years later, Benedict XVI named him archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and inducted him into the College of Cardinals in 2006.
With his death, the College of Cardinals has 217 members, 120 of whom are younger than 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave.