Today we would like to offer him the supreme recognition, thanking the Father in heaven for having given him to us and entrusting him to the merciful hands of the Father. We do that with this Eucharist over which I have the honor to preside on behalf of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, who expressly asked me to represent him. Our beloved Pontiff profoundly esteemed and was grateful for the long and generous service that our dear cardinal offered the Holy See. At this moment he is united with us in profound prayer.
1. Our gratitude My brothers, in the first place we today wish to thank the Lord for the gift that he has given to his Church, granting her a priest, a bishop and a cardinal, who was our dear confrère. Personally I was very close to him because we were both prepared for the priesthood at the same seminary in Asti in Piedmont. When he was ordained a priest in our beautiful cathedral in Asti in 1942 I was still in Liceco but from that moment I followed always with profound edification his apostolic work, first in the diocese and then in the service of the Holy See. In our diocese he was famous for certain acts of charity during World War II such as when he organized a network to listen to Vatican Radio, which transmitted news about prisoners of war, and then with a network of friends he transmitted the news to the respective families. At the end of the war in 1945 he also organized the Pontifical Work of Assistance, spending himself in helping sick and drifting prisoners of war who were returning home. And I remember how many trips he took with some old trucks to Pescantina, Verona, where the first trains were arriving from Brenner, to welcome, immediately help and then take home those who had suffered so much in concentration camps! And so in our home diocese the name of Cardinal Cheli lives in perpetual blessing. And the current bishop Monsignor Ravinale, who wished to join us, as well as his predecessor Cardinal Severino Poletto, can well testify to this. They are both with us today and it is a pleasure to offer them a heartfelt greeting. This charitable and merciful work for our neighbor was always a characteristic of Cardinal Cheli’s life and also in his various missions when he worked here in Italy in the nunciature but then in Guatemala and Spain. It was this way also in his long service to the Holy See in the Secretariat of State, in the United Nations, and finally again here in Rome working for migrants in the Pontifical Council. In sum, he made his own the apostolic idea of Paul, who wrote this to the Corinthians: “It is the charity of Christ that impels us!” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
2. Our intercession My brothers, there is then another reason that brings us this evening to lift up our humble prayer to the Father who is in heaven. It is the necessity of intercession. The first reading, which was just proclaimed, calls us to this duty. The Book of Maccabees in fact reminds us that already in the Old Testament, a century and a half before Christ, the people of Israel were aware of the obligation to pray for the dead. Many soldiers had in fact fallen in battle, fighting against the attempts by the ruling Greeks to paganize Palestine after Alexander the Great. The soldiers took up a collection and sent it to Jerusalem so that a sacrifice would be offered there for the dead, and the text that we heard says: “and they did this very good and noble thing that the dead might be absolved of their sins.” And it is with this spirit that we Christians, even more since we have a clear idea of eternal life, offer to the heavenly Father this evening this eucharistic sacrifice that God might in his great mercy immediately welcome this generous apostle into his arms.
3. The cardinal’s witness And before concluding, my brothers, I would also like to invite you to consider the message that Cardinal Cheli has left us. It is the constant pursuit of those evangelical beatitudes that Christ promised us in his famous Sermon on the Mount. Those 8 beatitudes have been the inspirational stars of so many servants of the Lord and they were also thus in the long life of our dear cardinal until, at the venerable age of almost 95, he gave up his beautiful soul to God. How can we not recall in this moment of prayer and meditation the beatitude promised to the merciful, considering all of his service on behalf of the suffering in time of war, in the service of the Holy See, in service to many emigrants in search of help? How can we forget his unceasing efforts for peace and reconciliation among people during the 20 or so years of work that he undertook first in the Secretariat of State, together with the unforgettable Cardinal Casaroli, and then at the United Nations in New York? His example of an apostle of peace, of a man of the beatitudes, will be an inspiration to us to continue along this path.
4. Conclusion These are the thoughts, dear friends of the cardinal, that came from my heart in this moment of prayer. At the end of the Holy Mass, we will then join in the beautiful liturgical song “In Paradisum deducant te Angeli...” – “In Paradise may the Angels accompany you and may the saints and martyrs receive you in chorus!” May he be especially welcomed by Mary Most Holy, whom we venerate in Asti with the beautiful title of “Gate of Paradise!” Dear brother Giovanni, may Mary open the gates of heaven to you and introduce you into the company of the angles and the saints! Amen!