WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, a popular Polish prelate who served for many years as archbishop of Krakow, inheriting the position opened by the election of Pope John Paul II, died on Tuesday. He was 89.
Macharski held one of the top positions in Poland's Catholic church in an era when the church played a leading role in opposing the communist system — action that helped to undermine the regime's authority in the eyes of many Poles.
The death of Macharski, who had been close to John Paul and was deeply respected, comes five days after Pope Francis stopped by his hospital in Krakow to pray for him during a visit last week to Poland. He was hospitalized in June and was unconscious at the time of Francis' visit. The death was reported by the Rev. Piotr Studnicki, a spokesman for the archdiocese in Krakow.
From the Vatican, Francis wrote that he received the news of Macharski's death "with pain." In a letter to the current Krakow archbishop, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Francis said that Macharski "guided the church in Krakow in the not easy period of political and social changes with wisdom."
President Andrzej Duda tweeted that it was a "huge loss" and called Macharski a "great Pole (and) outstanding man of the church."
In Krakow, the Royal Sigismund Bell at the Wawel Cathedral tolled for several minutes. The bell is a national symbol that only tolls on certain feast days and national holidays and is otherwise reserved for special occasions.
Macharski was appointed Krakow archbishop in 1978 by John Paul, who had held the position himself until he was elected pope earlier that year. Macharski served as archbishop until 2005, retiring two months after John Paul died after a 27-year pontificate.
Macharski was succeeded by Dziwisz, John Paul's longtime aide and friend.