The former archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, right, with Pope Benedict XVI
The former archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, right, with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, May 27, 2005. Photo by AP / Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano daily
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Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, known in part for forging closer relations between Christians and Jews, died on Friday at age 85. The archbishop emeritus of Milan died in that city after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Italy’s Jewish leadership mourned his death. “For us, he was a friend and a point of point of reference we could count on,” Milan Jewish community president Walker Meghnagi said in a statement. “He was a protagonist of interreligious dialogue in our city and a man of peace in the Middle East.”

He called on the city to name a park located across from the main Milan synagogue in Martini’s honor.

Renzo Gattegna, the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, described Martini as a “man of culture,” a “great protagonist in interreligious dialogue” and “a friend, a guide and a reference point.”

In a speech in 2004, Martini, a biblical scholar with liberal views on some social issues, said Catholics had to understand Judaism in order to understand their own faith.

"It is vital for the church not only to understand the ancient covenant [between God and the Jewish people] which has endured for centuries in order to launch a fruitful dialogue, but also to deepen our own understanding of who we are as the church," he said.

Martini retired in 2002 and moved to Jerusalem. He returned to Milan in 2008 due to his failing health.