On Tuesday, 12 July, shortly before midnight, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Pontifical Council for the Sick and the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers (Vatican Minister of Health) and Senior Bishop of the Diocese of Radom, died. He was a close the associate of the three popes. The motto of his episcopal life was: “I have not come to be served but to serve.”
Archbishop Zimowski died after a long cancer illness. Before his death, he received a phone call from Pope Francis. The Holy Father assured the Archbishop of his communion and prayers. He also gave him his blessing. A few days earlier, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI also phoned to Archbishop Zimowski.
Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski was born on 7 April 1949, in the Diocese of Tarnow.
After his ordination, he was appointed vicar of the parish of St. Elizabeth in Stary Sacz. In 1975, he was sent to the Catholic University of Lublin for specialized studies in the field of dogmatic theology. There, he received the bachelor’s degree in theology, under the title “The Pneumatological Dimension of the Dogmatic Constitution ‘Lumen Gentium’.” He then continued his studies in Innsbruck, Austria. In 1982, he obtained a doctorate in dogmatic theology.
On 1 February 1983, he began to work in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then under the direction of the Cardinal Prefect Joseph Ratzinger.
During his service in the Vatican, Fr. Zimowski was also the Postulator of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for Carolina Kózkówny and Father Roman Sitka—from the Diocese of Tarnow— as well as for Maria Julitta Ritz—from the Diocese of Wurzburg, Germany. Moreover, he was engaged in the preparation of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” especially the Polish edition, and collaborated with Vatican Radio.
Fr. Zimowski saw to the transformation of his house of his family in Kupieninie into a home for the elderly, the Dom Radosnej Starości, under the patronage of Pope John Paul II, and a chapel dedicated to the Saints Peter and Paul. This home has the capacity of caring for 75 persons.
He was appointed Bishop of Radom by Pope John Paul II, on 28 March 2002. The solemn consecration and enthronement took place on 25 May 2002, in Radom’s Cathedral. The principal consecrator was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Bishop Zygmunt Zimowski’s pastoral motto was “Non ministrari sed ministrare”—”I have not come to be served but to serve.”
As a member of the Polish Bishops ‘Conference, he also belonged to the Council for Ecumenism and was Chairman of the Doctrine of the Faith Council of the Polish Bishops’ Conference (PBC).
From October 2007 on, he was a member of the PBC’s Permanent Council. From 6 March 2008 to 26 November 2009, he served as the delegate of the PBC’s Pastoral Ministry of Emigration.
On 30 June 2008, he received an honorary doctorate from the Christian Theological Academy in Warsaw. On 9 November 2008, Poland’s President, Lech Kaczynski, awarded him the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta for his commitment to saving the Jewish cemetery monuments. In 2015, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda decorated him with the Commander’s Cross with the Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta.
On 18 April 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Zygmunt Zimowski President of the Pontifical Council for the Sick and the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers, elevating him at the same time to the dignity of Archbishop and releasing him form the episcopal ministry in Radom.
In 2013, Archbishop Zimowski was the papal legate at the main celebration of the World Day of the Sick, which took place in German Bavaria, at the Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary of Grace, in Altötting. Then, in February 2016, Archbishop Zimowski went to Nazareth as a special envoy for the main celebration of 24th World Day of the Sick. There, he emphasized that care for people with physical disabilities, for the elderly and mentally ill “is a measuring stick of culture, society and the state.”
During 2015 and 2016, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski was hospitalized several times. During the Sunday Angelus in the Vatican, on 8 February 2015, Pope Francis asked for prayers for Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski. Pope Francis said: “Let us also remember the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (Health Pastoral Care), Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, who is very sick in Poland. A prayer for him, for his health, because it was he who organized this Day, and he accompanies us in his suffering on this Day. Let us pray for Archbishop Zimowski.” In 2015, the former pastor of the Church of Radom stayed in a clinic in Warsaw. Then, on the World Day of the Sick, he concelebrated Holy Mass in the chapel there with the Apostolic Nuncio to Poland, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. At the end of the Eucharist, Archbishop Zimowski, had been in the clinic for six weeks, recalled that 30 years earlier Pope John Paul II had founded the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers. He also spoke about the beginning of the celebration of the World Day of the Sick.
Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski spoke with Pope Francis on the phone recently on three occasions. The last time was on the day of his death. In a letter, Benedict XVI also assured the Senior Bishop of the Diocese of Radom of his prayers. Since April of this year, because of his serious health condition, he was in a family in Kupieninie and then in the hospital in Dabrowa Tarnowska, where he died on Tuesday, 12 July at 11:50 pm.