Eduardo Martínez Somalo (Baños de Río Tobía, March 31, 1927) died this Tuesday in Rome at the age of 94. Ordained a priest in the Italian capital in 1950, Pope John Paul II appointed him a cardinal in 1988 until in 1993 he became a chamberlain of the Catholic Church, replacing Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio.
On April 2, 2005, Eduardo Martínez Somalo faced what would be the defining challenge of his clerical career. Pope John Paul II died and this Riojan cardinal, one of his closest and dearest collaborators, had to exercise the functions that correspond to the Camerlengo. For abounding in the matter, the Camerlengo is a position personally appointed by the Pope of Rome. His mission is to provisionally occupy the throne of the Holy See in the event that the High Pontiff dies. Thus, for seventeen days, and although very few people knew about it, a native of Baños de Río Tobía (a town of barely 1700 inhabitants) acted as pope and supervised the process of electing his successor.
He was ordained a priest more than 70 years ago. On March 19, 1950, after graduating in Theology and Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. After a brief period wearing the habit in Spain, he returned to the Italian capital to pursue a doctorate in Canon Law at the Pontifical Lataranense University. Since, in 1956, a position in the Vatican Secretariat of State was entrusted to him, he was chaining portfolios of ascending responsibility (some as exotic as that of Apostolic Nuncio of Colombia or Councilor of the Apostolic Delegation of Great Britain).
His career ended doubly. First, by being ordained a cardinal in 1988, then with his election as a chamberlain. As one of the most faithful and willing collaborators of the Supreme Pontiff, he came to enjoy a privileged position in the heart of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
He had been retired for more than 14 years since in 2007 he announced his final decision to step aside and stop nurturing the first row of the holy ecclesiastical institution. It is said that, when Pope John Paul II informed him of his decision to appoint him a Camerlengo, the Riojan tried to refuse, telling the Supreme Pontiff: ” Holy Father, look at someone else but not me because you will live longer than me .” The events belied the prelate’s omen, who with great anguish in his heart had to fire a man in whom he blindly believed and wear (even for a brief time) the sandals of the fisherman. In recent years the cardinal had already made public several cardiovascular problems. His flame goes out at 94, and they leave behind a pious trail of devout deeds.