Cardinal Dias was born on April 14, 1936, in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai (then Bombay) as the second oldest of four sons of Carlo Nazaro Dias and Maria Martins Dias. Their ancestral village is Velsao in Salcete, Goa. His father was the undersecretary of the Home Department of the then Bombay state.
After graduating from Jesuit-managed St. Stanislaus High School, he entered the seminary of Bombay archdiocese. He was ordained a priest by Cardinal Valerian Gracias for Bombay archdiocese On December 8, 1958.
He began his pastoral work as curate at St. Stephen’s Church in Bombay until 1961, when he was sent to Rome for studies. He attended Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy and the Pontifical Lateran University and obtained a doctorate in canon law in 1964.
As a young priest he worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State preparing the 1964 visit of Pope Paul VI to India. The Pope raised him to the rank of Privy Chamberlain in 1964. From 1965 to 1973, he served as secretary of the nunciatures in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Indonesia, Madagascar, Réunion, the Comoro Islands and Mauritius.
Returning to the Secretariat of State in Vatican City, he was head of the section for the Soviet Union, the Baltic states, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania until 1982.
In 1982, he was appointed apostolic pro-nuncio in Ghana, Togo and Benin, and ordained a bishop. He later served as apostolic nuncio in Korea during 1987-1991 and Albania 1991-1997. In Albania, he was charged with rebuilding the local Church after nearly five decades of communist rule. He invited foreign missionaries to the country and worked with the Albanian government to recover Catholic churches and schools.
The Vatican recalled him from diplomatic service and appointed him the ninth archbishop of Bombay on November 8, 1996. Pope John Paul II, now a saint, made him a cardinal in 2001.
Cardinal Dias was president delegate of the tenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held in October 2001. The same year, he was named to the Council of Cardinals for the Study of the Organizational and Economic Problems of the Holy See.
He also served as the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Urbanian University from 2006 to 2011.
In 2003, he delivered the homily at the beatification Mass of Mother Teresa he had befriended as the nuncio in Albania. He said, “Reaching out to our fellow human beings, embracing the poor as Mother Teresa did, must become a common service for every Christian.”
The late prelate had criticized the domination of the world “by information technology, by New Age teaching and by the decline of ethical values.” He often lamented that countries were being “crushed down by godless ideologies and enticing proposals that exalt the anti-God cultures, including the culture of death.”
He was one of the cardinals considered papabile or possible candidates to become pope, at the 2005 conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI. The Time Magazine had noted his “strong diplomatic experience” and said his election “would represent a bold choice from the developing world.”
On May20, 2006, he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples that oversees the Catholic missions, a post whose holder was once known as the “Red Pope” because of the extent of his authority over the Church in mission lands. He resigned on reaching 75 years in 2011 and was succeeded by Cardinal Fernando Filoni.
Cardinal Dias was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. He held these posts until he turned 80.
He also voted in the enclave that elected Pope Francis in 2013.
During his tenure as Archbishop of Bombay, he frequently condemned anti-Christian discrimination in Indian society by Hindu fundamentalists. In 2001, he invited leaders of all religious communities in Mumbai to his home for “a meeting for peace in a world torn apart by war and hatred.”
The cardinal remained a theologically conservative prelate who strongly maintained the Church’s stances against abortion and homosexuality. He believed that gays and lesbians could be “cured” of their “unnatural tendencies” through the Sacrament of Penance.
Cardinal Ivan Dias, former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and Vatican diplomat to several countries, died on June 19 in Rome. He was 81. He was the archbishop of Bombay for ten years from 1996.