6 May 1996

Cardinal Léon-Joseph Suenens, Archbishop Emeritus of Malines – Brussels, died of thrombosis on May 6, 1996 in a clinic of Brussels. Once a senior prelate in Belgium, he was a very important figure of today’s Catholicism and one of the great contributors of Vatican II.

Cardinal Suenens born on July 16, 1904 in Ixelles, which is in the archdiocese he was going to lead several years later. When he expressed the desire to be a priest, well-known Card. Mercier, then Archbishop of Malines, sent him to study in Rome at the Gregorian University. He graduated in Philosophy, Theology and Canon Law. After his ordination he became Professor of Moral Philosophy and Pedagogy in Malines and then Vice-rector of the Catholic University of Louvain. He replaced the Rector who was arrested by the Nazis, thereby putting in danger his own life.

In 1945, when Pius XII appointed him Auxiliary Bishop and General Vicar of Malines, Bishop Suenens became the soul of several Catholic associations: he was made National President of “Legio Marie” and “Pax Christi” as well as the national liaison for the Belgian Catholic Action.

John XXIII appointed him Arcbishop of the primatial see and subsequently Cardinal. He then became one of the leading figures of the Vatican Council, which John XXIII himself had called for. He played an active role in the committee for the preparation of the Council. When the ecumenical assembly started its work, Paul VI appointed him to be a member of the leading body together with Cardinals Agagianian, Dopfner and Lercaro. His interventions were always remarkable and incisive, especially with regard to diaconate, Episcopal ministry and ecclesiology in general.

Cardinal Suenens gave up his pastoral ministry in the diocese in 1979 because of his age. He spen the last years of his life working particularly for the Charismatic Renewal, always faithful to his Episcopal motto, “In Spiritu Sancto”.

John Paul II expressed his sorrow for the death of Card. Suenens in a telegram to his successor Card. Danneels, the current Archbishop of Malines-Brussels. In the telegram, the Holy Father underlined Card, Suenen’s apostolic zeal in serving his diocese and the Church of Belgium. He says he remembers keenly the important role Card. Suenens played in the theological and pastoral reflection during the sessions of Vatican II, as well as his ability to lead discussions while being open to the work of the Holy Spirit and listening carefully to the Council Fathers. The Holy Father asked the Lord to receive Card. Suenens in his peace and light, defining him as a shepherd in love with Christ and with the Church which he guided with the concern that she may be faithful to her Lord and present to today’s world.

With the death of Cardinal Suenens, the College of Cardinals now consists of 156 members, of which 116 are electors and 40 non electors.


“Every day is a new Pentecost”. For me these words of Cardinal Léon-Joseph Suenens, friend and supporter of the charismatic renewal, best sum up his approach to life. When consecrated a bishop in 1945 he chose as his motto “In Spiritu Sancto” illustrated by a dove taking off from azure ground, a symbol of Mary. His reasons were simple: “This was my entire programme of life, a profound union with Mary’s fiat in order to welcome the grace and force of the Holy Spirit”.

How fitting that he should go to meet his Lord in the month when we both honor Mary and celebrate the coming of the Spirit, for these were the two stars in his life – as Cardinal Danneels reminded us in a final tribute to this fine theologian, courageous ecumenist, key figure of Vatican II, and a man of the Holy Spirit.

But for the Renewal he was simply “our” Cardinal, tirelessly working to ensure that the grace of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was understood and accepted by the Church hierarchy. As we salute, giving thanks for his wisdom, courage and friendship, we may not yet realize how much we are going to miss him. (Charles Whitehead ICCRS President).

Cardinal Suenens worked tirelessly to promote the graces of the charismatic renewal in the Church. Without doubt, the Lord called him to guide and protect the renewal in its early years of development. Among the countless services he performed, three stand out: when the renewal was widely misunderstood and strongly criticized, it was Cardinal Suenens who oversaw the development of international theological and pastoral guidelines; in 1975, he personally convinced Pope Paul VI of the value of the renewal for the Church; and in 1977, he led a group of Catholic and Protestant renewal leaders to Jerusalem to pray together for the continued outpouring of the Spirit on the Church. I praise God for the opportunity to have worked with him and to have been touched by his zeal for the renewal of the Church and for Christian unity. (Kevin Ranaghan, ICCRS Vice-President).

I am deeply saddened at the death of the great Champion of the charismatic renewal, Léon-Joseph Cardinal Suenens. The significant contribution of this great man of the Church at the Second Vatican Council has inspired and enthused countless numbers. In my last meeting with him he expressed his great hope for the future of the charismatic renewal enlivened by a more active embrace of apostolic action in the power of the Spirit. I salute this Prince of the Church and give thanks to God for the great witness of his life. (Brian Smith, President of the Catholic Fraternity).

Often, I have stood by his side and seen how hard he has worked for the renewal to be received by the Church and the Church by the renewal. His last words, to the nurse at the hospital where he spent only a day, active to the end, where taken from his latest booklet: “I am going from life to Life”. When one of his closet collaborators was told of his death, her response was: “Nous sommes pleins de joie!”. Cardinal Suenens lived and worked in an atmosphere of faith and communicated that faith – as well as hope and love – to many. Let us pray for his reception into Glory, and continue to live and work as he did, for that integration of the charismatic and institutional that is a hallmark of the Holy Spirit. (Ralph Martin, President of Renewal Ministries, Former ICCRS Chairman).

Franciscans reached Rome and the ears of Pope Innocence III through the support of Cardinal John of St. Paul. Charismatic renewal reached Rome and was able to move quickly to the heart of the Catholic Church only through the daring support of its own cardinal advocate, Léon-Joseph Suenens. His major title may be Architect of the Second Vatican Council, but his favorite title with us will always remain Servant of the Holy Spirit and Indispensable Friend of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. (Fr. Tom Forrest, C.Ss.R. Former ICCRS Chairman).

Taken from the ICCRS Newsletter, May-June 1996

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