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Cardinal John Foley, 76, worked at Vatican

PHILADELPHIA -- Cardinal John Foley, who for 25 years was the voice for American viewers of the Vatican's Christmas Midnight Mass and who led an ancient Catholic order in the Holy Land, died yesterday. He was 76.

Foley died at the Villa St. Joseph in suburban Darby, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said. The cause of death was not given.

In 1984, Foley was appointed to lead the Pontifical Council of Social Communications, which spearheaded Vatican initiatives under Pope John Paul II to get out the church's message through the media.

In a world of prelates who were often ill at ease when speaking with journalists, or who used convoluted phrases to express a concept, Foley's down-to-earth, straightforward manner of engaging with the public was a refreshing departure.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi described Foley as being a man "truly of great spiritual level."

"He understood and encouraged our work with all his heart," said Lombardi, who also directs Vatican Radio.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI named Foley the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The order supports schools, health institutions and serves basic needs for the poorest people of all faiths in the region.

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Cardinal John Foley," said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. "Anyone who met him was immediately aware of his intense love for the church and his zeal for communicating the Gospel."

Foley was born in Darby. He went to St. Joseph's College, graduating in 1957, and then to seminary. He was ordained in 1962. He also received a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University.

When he returned to Philadelphia in 1966, he was named assistant pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish and was part of the faculty at Cardinal Dougherty High School from 1967 to 1984.

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