In the days following his death and funeral, I am trying to think how the late Cardinal Ivan Dias impacted my life. Lots of eloquent and praise-worthy eulogies have poured in, but he impacted different people differently. After the enigmatic and towering Cardinal Valerian Gracias, Cardinal Ivan Dias must surely rank as one of the greatest sons that India has produced for the Church.
Cardinal Ivan’s rise through the ecclesiastical hierarchy was stellar, and there is no need to go into that here since a Google Search will tell give you many details of his illustrious life spent in service of the Universal Church. But Cardinal Ivan was more than just the positions he held; he was a man according to the heart of Christ. The many articles that have appeared in the online press fail to bring out the crux of his personality and the force of his character. Cardinal Oswald Gracias described him a ‘martyr for mission‘. But he was also a ‘Prince of the Poor‘.
He was Marian at heart and his love for Mary was evident in his spirituality and the way he took care of his people as a mother. Catholic News Service says that in his preaching and teaching, Cardinal Dias liked to combine quotes from Scripture with everyday images.
“The bishop, like the donkey, must carry Jesus high on his shoulders for all the people to see and hear and follow. The hosannas and the alleluias, the palm and olive branches, the clothes strewn before it on the roadside are not for the donkey, but for his lord and master,” he told an international conference for bishops in Rome in 2000.
During a visit to Vietnam in 2011, Cardinal Dias told government representatives that the church and the government were like a mother and a father in a family, each having a specific role, but needing to work together “for the good of their children.”
The Fraternity of Sisters who took care of Cardinal Ivan Dias evoke the man he was, in their recollections of him in Albania. He was appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Albania in 1991 just after the fall of communism in that country in 1990. He had the grim challenge of re-christianising Albania after decades of communist rule during which all forms of religion had been completely purged.
Cardinal Ivan took to the challenge as a fish to water. His missionary instincts shone. The cardinal invited foreign missionaries to the country and worked with the Albanian government to recommission Catholic churches and schools. Food was in short supply and hence he would stock up on supplies when he made visits to Rome every couple of months. He would also collect money and resources for rebuilding projects. However, the food would not last long since he would readily give it away to anyone who came knocking on his door.
In the initial days, he lived in very squalid and dismal conditions. He built up the Apostolic Nunciature in Albania brick by brick. Even today, the Nunciature stands as one of the most elegant buildings in the region, outshining most of the diplomatic and government edifices.
On April 25, 1993, Pope John Paul II made an apostolic visit to Albania and ordained 4 new bishops, thus re-establishing the hierarchy after decades of imposed atheism. These had been personally groomed by Cardinal Ivan. On the occasion JPII said in jest, “I feel a little sad for my brother Ivan. He was the bishop of the whole of Albania! But now there are 4 more.” In his thanksgiving speech a little later, Cardinal Ivan retorted, “I feel like a mother who has given birth to four sons!”
If Albania gave us Mother Teresa, we gave Albania, Cardinal Ivan Dias.
Cardinal Ivan left for Rome in 2006 when he was appointed Prefect for the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. I was just in my second year in the seminary. Two years later he came down to celebrate 50 years of his priesthood and we had a wonderful Mass at St Stanislaus School grounds in Bandra. After Mass as he walked into the private reception and dinner, his last words to me were “No pictures please!”. I was the unfortunate seminarian tasked with photography that day. 9 years later I am still in charge of photography at my college here in Rome. Some things never change.
I admired Cardinal Ivan for his personality, the force of his presence on those around him, his intellect and his love for Mary. After many years it was a privilege for me to see him and talk to him here in Rome. I proudly reminded him that he had welcomed me into the seminary. Our last real meeting was on 8th December 2016 when he invited me home to dinner to celebrate his presbyteral ordination anniversary along with Cardinal Oswald and Fr Gavin. That was to be our last meeting.
As I concelebrated at his Funeral Mass at St Peter’s Basilica, I had a deep and profound awareness of what a great son the Church had lost. And I felt blest to be able to say goodbye.
Rest in Peace Your Eminence. You made Mumbai and India proud.
Read more – The Tablet article: EXPERIENCED DIPLOMAT, INDIAN CARDINAL DIAS DIES AT 81
Funeral Mass pics from St Peter’s Basilica: