In Memoriam: H.E. Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Former President of Pax Christi International
14/3/19 - Cardinal Godfried Danneels, former Archbishop of Mechelen Brussels, passed away on 14 March 2019, at 85 years of age. He was President of Pax Christi International from 1990 through 1999. The International Catholic Peace Movement offers its condolences and prayers to his family and to the Archdiocese of Mechelen Brussels.
Cardinal Danneels became president after the years of political transitions in Central and Eastern Europe and with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, in particular. He guided the movement for about a decade and at a time of great change in the world.
The end of the Cold War between East and West, for which Pax Christi had worked, was a moment of great hope for a disarmed and more just world order. However, it soon became clear that the human family was facing new versions of old problems: poverty, ethnic conflict, racism, refugees and new wars, such as in Iraq/Kuwait in 1990/1991.
Europe also suddenly faced many changes and challenges. The Cardinal participated, together with delegates of Pax Christi International, in the Special Assembly of Bishops for Europe in December 1991.
Under the leadership of Cardinal Danneels, several members of Pax Christi responded on many levels to the violent conflict in the former Yugoslavia – including practical help in refugee camps, facilitating interfaith meetings between religious leaders, and exchanges between young people from Serbia, Albania, Kosovo and Northern Ireland. The Cardinal visited the city of Sarajevo in the midst of the hostilities. That visit was a sign of solidarity with the victims of violence and the ongoing war between the different fractions.
Cardinal Danneels played a crucial role in bringing religious leaders from the Balkan region together for common reflection on the role of religious leaders in conflicts and in the wars in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo in particular. He also led a delegation visiting the Serbian Orthodox leadership in Belgrade.
At the same time, contacts between the Russian Orthodox Church and Pax Christi International were of great interest to the Cardinal. Several meetings took place with the heads of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. Cardinal Danneels spoke about the findings of these contacts with the Secretariat of State and with the Pontifical Council responsible for these relations. The Cardinal also participated in interreligious meetings at the Vatican on the situation in the Middle East in particular.
As International President, Cardinal Danneels visited different countries and regions in conflict in Africa. In 1993 he was invited to preach at a retreat in Rwanda, and, on that occasion, the foundation was made for Pax Christi Rwanda. Unfortunately, the mass killings and genocide which took place in April 1994 killed several of our Pax Christi members or they had to flee for their lives.
Cardinal Danneels headed a small delegation visiting several Pax Christi contacts in South Sudan during the violent events there in 1994. The personal experiences of visiting that part of Africa moved him deeply. He saw the suffering of the people and he was aware of his responsibility to witness about what he had seen and heard. A report was published and forwarded to the United Nations and other (inter)governmental bodies.
As International President, Cardinal Danneels was invited by different Pax Christi sections in, for instance, Germany, France, Slovakia, United Kingdom, USA, the Netherlands, Flanders and more. He attended all the Worlds Assemblies of the movement in Fatima, Assisi and London. Cardinal Danneels led the yearly ceremonies for the Pax Christi Award in different countries such as in the USA and in Vienna. Cardinal Danneels guided the International Board with members from different countries and regions like Poland, Haiti, Angola, USA and from elsewhere. At the same time the Cardinal had plenty of individual talks and meetings with political and church delegates from countries in which Pax Christi members are active.
Under his presidency, Pax Christi International played an active role in many international coalitions, such as those working to ban landmines and cluster munitions and to stop the use of child soldiers, the co-founding of IANSA - the International Action Network against Small Arms and Light Weapons, and much more.
In 1995 Pax Christi International marked its 50th anniversary with a celebration in Assisi, Italy, attended by about 700 members from 37 countries. On that occasion the delegates had been invited to meet Pope John Paul II who stated that Pax Christi International is very much needed as an international movement both within the church and in the world.
The presidency of Cardinal Danneels is also characterised by the broadening of the movement into the wider world. As it spread to more countries across the world, Pax Christi International initiated a series of meetings to bring together its partners within different regions. These regional consultations started in Asia Pacific, in 1991 (Hong Kong) and in 1996 (Philippines). The first World Assembly held outside Europe took place in Amman (Jordan) and Jerusalem in 1999. Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem was elected as the movement’s first non-European President succeeding Cardinal Danneels.
The funeral of Cardinal Danneels is taking place in the Saint Rombouts Cathedral in Mechelen on Friday 22 March 2019. Pax Christi International will be present at the funeral.
May he rest in God's peace.
More on Cardinal Danneel's passing:
- To read the farewell address delivered by Cardinal Daneels in 1999 in Amman, Jordan at the end of his mandate as Pax Christi International's President, click here.
- Read Pax Christi Flanders' reflection Cardinal Danneels here.
- Read Pope Francis' condelences on the death of Cardinal Danneels here.