ROME — Mourning the death of Cardinal Luigi De Magistris, who died in southern Italy Feb. 16, a week before his 96th birthday, Pope Francis remembered his work at the Vatican and, especially, his dedication to administering the sacrament of reconciliation.

Sending condolences to the Archdiocese of Cagliari, where the cardinal had retired, the pope said the former head of the Apostolic Penitentiary was “animated by irreproachable priestly zeal” and “served the Lord and the church with great dedication.”

He was “a diligent and wise collaborator of my predecessors,” the pope said, adding praise for “his love for the ministry of reconciliation, which he always carried out with admirable dedication, intent on the good of souls.”

In fact, when Pope Francis announced in 2015 that he would make De Magistris a cardinal, the archbishop was doing what he usually did in retirement on Sundays: He was administering the sacrament of confession in the cathedral of Cagliari, his hometown.

Born Feb. 23, 1926, he studied for the priesthood in Rome, earning degrees in philosophy and theology from the Pontifical Lateran University, and was ordained in 1952. After six years of pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Cagliari, he was called back to the university, this time to serve as its secretary.

After a year, he was transferred to what is now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he served under Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani during the Second Vatican Council. In 1969, he moved to the Vatican Secretariat of State where he worked for 10 years. Pope John Paul II named him regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary in 1979 and named him a bishop in 1996.

The Apostolic Penitentiary is the Vatican tribunal dealing with matters of conscience and is the office that coordinates the work of the priests serving as confessors in St. Peter’s Basilica and the major basilicas of Rome.

The cardinal’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 213 members, 119 of whom are under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.