Cardinal Achille Silvestrini was born in Brisighella on October 25, 1923. After his studies at the Diocesan Seminary, he was ordained a priest on July 13, 1946. After his graduation in Classical Literature from the University of Bologna, he was sent to Rome in 1948, where he graduated in civil and canon law from the Pontifical Lateran University.
In 1953, he entered the Vatican’s Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where priests are trained for the Holy See’s diplomatic service. He began his diplomatic service at the Section for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs of the Vatican Secretariat of State, dealing with Vietnam, China, Indonesia and, in general, Southeast Asia.
From 1958 to 1969 he served as personal secretary to Vatican Secretaries of State, Cardinals Domenico Tardini and Amleto Giovanni Cicognani. Back in Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, the new name assumed by the Section for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, he dealt with international organizations, peace, disarmament and human rights.
In 1971 he accompanied Archbishop Agostino Casaroli on his visit to Moscow, to deposit the instrument of adhesion of the Holy See to the Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. He was also involved with the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and subsequently participated in all the phases of the Conference in Helsinki and Geneva.
In July 1973 he was appointed Undersecretary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, of which he became Secretary on 4 May 1979. Saint Pope John Paul II appointed him archbishop and consecrated him on 27 May 1979.
In his new post, he was involved in the revision of the Lateran Concordat in consultation with Italian authorities which resulted in the Agreement of 18 February 1984. He was involved in several diplomatic missions in various parts of the world.
Saint John Paul II created him a cardinal on 28 June 1988, and 3 days later was appointed the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. He was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches on 24 May 1991. He retired on 25 November 2000.
With the death of Cardinal Silvestrini, the number of cardinals worldwide now stands at 215, of whom 118 are below the age of 80 who are eligible to vote for a new Pope at the conclave.