VATICAN CITY, MAR. 21, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Marcello Zago, one of the Church's leading experts on missions and interreligious dialogue, died early today at his Roman residence after a long illness. He was 68.
He was the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and a one-time missionary in Southeast Asia.
A member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, he was ordained a priest in 1959 and immediately went to Laos and Cambodia, where he remained until 1974. In 1971 he founded a Center for Study and Dialogue with Buddhists. He was forced to leave those countries when the communist Khmer Rouge took over in Cambodia.
From 1983 to 1986, he was secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and, as such, one of the people most responsible for the organization of the meeting of religious leaders for peace, convoked by John Paul II and held in Assisi, Italy, in October 1986.
He was elected superior general of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1986, and held this post until 1998. During his years as superior, his congregation founded missions in 13 new countries.
He was regarded as one of the great Western experts both on missions as well as Buddhism. He was professor of missiology and Buddhism at the Pontifical Urban and Lateran Universities in Rome, as well as the St. Paul Athenaeum in Ottawa. He wrote articles, essays and works on the missions and interreligious dialogue.
John Paul II appointed him secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 1998. From Oct. 15-22, 1999, he led a peace mission to Angola on behalf of John Paul II; and from Jan. 29 to Feb. 3, 2000, he was the papal envoy to Peru for the celebrations of the centenary of the prefectures of the Peruvian Amazonia.
Archbishop Zago was ill for many months, and was hospitalized for long periods. As soon as he felt better, he returned to his office to continue his work, especially to receive last-minute information from missionaries passing through Rome.
In a telegram sent today, John Paul II expresses his admiration for "his profound spirituality," his "exemplary religious life," and his "pastoral energy as priest and bishop."
Cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, told Vatican Radio that for Archbishop Zago dialogue "was part of the mission; he did not see it either as opposition or a problem. For him, dialogue was dialogue for the proclamation, and the proclamation, which is also dialogue, was necessarily directed to the mission."