FROM ALAN McELWAIN IN ROME
IN 1958 it was already being suggested that, for the first time in four centuries, the "always an Italian for Pope" tradition might at last be broken. If a non-Italian did succeed the late Pope Pius XII, the prediction went, he would almost certainly be Armenian Cardinal Gregory Peter Agagianian,
As it turned out, the college of cardinals chose another Italian, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who, as Pope John XXIII, was to become, in an all too brief pontificate, the most universally loved man ever to wear the fisherman's ring.
Again in 1963, when Pope John died, Cardinal Agagianian was once more picked as a non-Italian who 'might' become Pope. But it was again an Italian — Giovanni Battista Montini. the present Pope Paul VI.
Never again will Cardinal Agagianian be on the list of "papahili." He died on Sunday at the age of 75, almost seven months after his resignation as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, the church's missionary headquarters.
He was a most remarkable man. The late Cardinal Richard Cushing, of Boston,
called him 'one of the most brilliant churchmen of modern times, and the possessor of one of the greatest minds in the history of the Church.'
He was a remarkable linguist, speaking about 12 languages, many of them fluently — his native Russian,
Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Classical Hebrew and Greek. Armenian and Latin.
His ama7ing ability to combine the oriental and latin mentalities always surprised even those who had known him longest. He also had an astonishing memory.
He was born in 1895 in Georgia, in the Caucasians, near where Stalin was horn. He was christened Lazarus, and showed such an early and ardent vocation to the priesthood that at the age of 14 he was sent to Rome's Propaganda Fide College. There was some talk of sending him home again because he was too young, hut the late Pope St. Pius X took a personal interest in him, saw that he was kept on at Propaganda and predicted, accurately, that he would become 'a priest, a bishop and a patriarch'. He was ordained in Rome in 1917, niade a bishop by Pope Pius XI in 1935, Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians in 1937 and a Cardinal (by Pope Pius )II) in 1946. He was then, at 50, the youngest member of the College of Cardinals.
For a time he was a professor at Propaganda Fide. Among his students were Cardinal Sir Norman Gilroy, of Sydney, Cardinal Peter McKeefry, of Wellington, New Zealand, and the late Cardinal Spellman, of New York, who once recalled him as 'the most
brilliant, scholarly leader among all the seminarians'.
POPE'S LETTER Small, bearded and with twinkling eyes, he was a man of immense personal magnet ism \ and enormous dignity — but dignity without pomposity. He was also kind, gracious, saintly and always approachable.
When Cardinal Agagianian retired from the Evangelisation of People's Congregation last Octohcr,Pope Paul wrote him a personal letter, regretfully accepting his resignation at his 'insistent request' because of -ill health.