Vatican Radio says Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, a Syrian-born prelate and Eastern rite patriarch who headed a major Vatican office before retirement, has died in a Rome hospital. He was 81.

In 2000, Pope John Paul II named Daoud to lead the Congregation of Eastern Churches, a post previously held by cardinals of the Latin rite. While Eastern rite churches are loyal to the pope, their ceremonies are similar to those of Orthodox rites.

At his death, Daoud held the title of patriarch emeritus of the church of the Syrians. Pope Benedict XVI, in a condolence message after the death Saturday, noted that people in the Middle East are "living through difficult times," a reference to the uprising in Syria.