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Achille Silvestrini (born 25 October 1923, Brisighella, Italy) was one of the most prominent Vatican diplomats during the long reign of John Paul II. He was Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches between 1991 and 2000.
Early life and ordination
Educated in Rome, Silvestrini became a priest in 1946 and after several years continuing his education in Rome via studies of theology, law and Church history, began a very long career in the Vatican Secretariat of State. By the time of the death of Pius XII he was a well-established servant there, and after the election of Pope John XXIII in 1958 Silvestrini became administrative secretary to Domenico Tardini and Amleto Giovanni Cicognani. Under Pope Paul VI, he continued as administrative secretary to Jean-Marie Villot, and his experience was welcomed by John Paul after he became Pope in 1978.
Bishop and Diplomat
Silvestrini became titular Archbishop of Novaliciana on 27 May 1979 and was consecrated by two other figures who were to play important administrative roles in John Paul's long papacy – Eduardo Martínez Somalo and Duraisamy Simon Lourdusamy.
He then turned his focus for the next five years to the renewal of the Lateran Treaty on its fiftieth anniversary, and his diplomatic skills allowed him to sign a revised treaty that reflected the rapid secularisation of Italy since the 1960s.
On 28 June 1988 Silvestrini was rewarded for his service with a cardinal's hat, becoming Cardinal-Deacon of S. Benedetto fuori Porta S. Paolo and three years later he became Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
In 1999 Silvestrini was the papal representative to the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan. He retired from his post as Prefect a year later.
When the earliest speculation as to who would succeed John Paul II began in the middle 1990s, Silvestrini was a popular choice among liberal observers because he was seen as a man in the more moderate style of Paul VI rather than John Paul's hardline style. It was always noted by Vatican-watchers that his age would make him a very slim chance, though.
When he turned eighty and thus became destined never to vote in a conclave in October 2003, Silvestrini became known as, along with his longtime counterpart Cardinal Giovanni Cheli as the strongest critic of that rule among over-eighties during the 2005 conclave. Silvestrini actually took no part in this conclave even during the pre-conclave discussions.