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from issue no. 11 - 2004

A short biography of the archbishop emeritus of Ravenna

The ninetieth birthday of a cardinal

by Giovanni Cubeddu

Tonini between his two sisters

Tonini between his two sisters

In July of 2004, now drawing to a close, Ersilio Tonini became ninety. Who doesn’t know this old cardinal who never misses a chance to use radio and television to say a good word? He entered the seminary in Piacenza when he was eleven years old, became a priest, and was vice-rector of the seminary in that city. He then did a doctorate in civil and canon law at the Lateran, was spiritual assistant to the FUCI (Federation of Catholic University Stdents), director of the diocesan weekly Il nuovo giornale, then parish priest of Salsamoggiore, and in 1968 rector of Piacenza seminary. He was there only briefly because in 1969 Paul VI nominated him bishop of Macerata. In 1975 he became archbishop of Ravenna (where among other things he earned the respect of the townsfolk by leaving his bishop’s apartment to a small community of drug addicts and retiring to live in the Santa Teresa Institute for the grievously ill). In 1978 he became chairman of the board of the daily L’Avvenire and in that same year reopened the seminary in Ravenna that had been closed at the time of student protest. He inaugurated other centers for drug addicts, revitalized other diocesan weeklies, worked in close contact with Caritas. In 1986 he received the Pope on a visit to Emilia Romagna. In 1988, with the help of the Pope, he collected funds for the Yanomani Indios of Brazil. In 1990 Tonini hosted the Pope again on a visit to Ravenna and a few weeks afterwards placed in his hands the government’s renunciation to the Church of Saint Apollinaire.
Tonini parish priest of Salsomaggiore

Tonini parish priest of Salsomaggiore

The following year he preached the spiritual exercises for the Roman curia and appeared on Italian TV in a program, The ten commandments, considered a rare example of modern catechism on the airwaves. In 1992 he was in Brazil, at the congress of the heads of the Indios tribes, and in 1994 the Pope created him cardinal with the title to Most Holy Redeemer in Val Melaina.
Ersilio Tonini is a pastor and eclectic witness, he wants to play the whole field, to give everything up to his last moment. But beyond doubt, this old Paduan cardinal wants to be remembered only in one way, and he made it quite clear when – leaving his post as bishop on 15 December 1990 in Ravenna cathedral – he entrusted the pastoral to his successor «as the most obedient and reverent of the diocesan priests».

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