ROME — Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, has dedicated his life to the church through good times and bad, Pope Francis said.

At a morning Mass celebrating the 90th birthday of the cardinal, who is a former Vatican secretary of state, the pope said Cardinal Sodano had given “the gift of a witness of life that does everyone good.”

“We see in the cardinal the witness of a man who has done so much for the church in different situations, with joy and with tears,” the pope said at the Mass Dec. 7 in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

Sodano preached the homily at the Mass, thanking God particularly for the gift of priesthood, while Francis simply said a few words of thanks.

As one gets older, Francis said, the “memory of the past journey” and the desire to give thanks to God becomes stronger.

Memory, the pope said, is an important part of life and of faith, and forgetting one’s past and all that God has done is a tragedy.

But, he said, “Cardinal Sodano has remembered these years and every time we remember, we find ourselves before a new grace.”

Born Nov. 23, 1927, in the northern Italian town of Isola d’Asti, Sodano was the second of six children. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1950 and taught dogmatic theology at the Asti seminary before entering the church’s diplomatic corps in 1959.

He spent 30 years in the church’s diplomatic service, much of that time in Latin America, including Ecuador, Uruguay and Chile. He was named Vatican secretary of state by St. John Paul II Dec. 1, 1990, and continued serving in that position until 2006 under Pope Benedict XVI.