Pope Francis has found cardinals who share his vision of the church

Pope Francis has found cardinals who share his vision of the church

Most of the 20 new cardinals created today by Pope Francis never thought they’d be wearing the cardinal’s red hat. Most of them never wanted to be a cardinal.

And that, perhaps, is the most important defining quality of the pope’s choices, as he shifts the College of Cardinals away from careerists and toward pastors who, as true shepherds, “live with the smell of the sheep.”

Sure, geography is part of the pope’s plan. By choosing cardinals from such far-flung places as Tonga, Myanmar and Cape Verde, he is expanding the global mix in an institution that has been dominated for centuries by Europe.

The pope is also choosing prelates from small dioceses, places that have never had a cardinal before. I think this is a deliberate move to end the perception that cardinals should be the most powerful church leaders from the most populous and “important” archdioceses.

But what’s really striking about the new cardinals is that they seem to embody Pope Francis’ vision of the church as a merciful mother, a promoter of justice and a bearer of good news, directly involved in the lives of those who suffer. By most accounts, the pope’s choices are bishops who are close to their people.

Uruguayan Archbishop Daniel Sturla Berhouet, for example, was doing pastoral work in the slums of Montevideo when he learned the pope had made him a cardinal. Reaching young people in the poorer barrios of the city, he said, is his top priority.

Panamanian Bishop Jose Lacunza Maestrojuan of David, another of Francis’ choices, is a social activist who has helped mediate disputes over mining concessions on indigenous reserves. He has described his primary mission as “to work among the poor, with the poorest, that is, the indigenous people.”

In Mexico, Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia said the example of Pope Francis has led him and other bishops to speak more forcefully on issues like drug violence and immigration.

The first-ever cardinal from Cape Verde, Arlindo Gomes Furtad, has said the church needs to be a teacher with the heart of a mother, reaching out to broken families with “practical incentives and welcoming gestures.”

In Italy, the pope skipped over larger dioceses like Turin and Venice when he named new cardinals. Instead, he chose Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona, known for his pastoral energy, human warmth and lack of pretension, and Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento, who has worked closely with the immigrant community in Italy.

In selecting cardinals, it seems clear that Pope Francis has found a way to identify people who can keep their sense of self-importance in check. Lest there be any doubt, he wrote to the new cardinals and told them, “Keeping oneself humble in service is not easy if one views the cardinalate as an award, like the culmination of a career, a dignity of power or of superior distinction.”

In his homily at today's consistory, the pope cautioned that church leaders are sometimes tempted by pride and self-centeredness, and by irritability with their people and their colleagues, or, even worse, by pent-up anger. The antidote, he said, is found in St. Paul’s words, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated.”

The pope added something that no doubt resonated with the new batch of cardinals, on the link between love and justice: “Those called to the service of governance in the Church need to have a strong sense of justice, so that any form of injustice becomes unacceptable, even those which might bring gain to himself or to the Church.”


4 comments (Add your own)

1. Paulo wrote:
“Sure, geography is part of the pope’s plan. By choosing cardinals from such far-flung places as Tonga, Myanmar and Cape Verde, he is expanding the global mix in an institution that has been dominated for centuries by Europe.”

The idea of “an institution […] dominated for centuries by Europe” needs some qualification. First of all, we have the 11th century Schism, breaking the communion between Eastern and Western Christendom, and effectively consolidating the Roman Catholic Church as “European”. Despite missionary incursions in Asia (that date back to Saint Thomas the Apostle in India), it is not difficult to imagine that the difficulties in travelling and communications would render a representative of those far reaches quite ineffective. To the south, Moslem invasions obliterated the Bizantine church, culminating with their own incursions in Europe and the establishment of a stronghold in the Iberian Peninsula, which lasted well into the 15th century. To the East, Christian presence dates back to early 16th century: the US being established mainly as a protestant haven, with Catholicism ebbing and flowing, and only really firmly implanting itself thanks to missionaries like the Spanish Franciscan Blessed Junipero Serra (18th century) and European immigrants in the 19th century. The situation in Latin America is not much different: Brazil was still a colony of Portugal until 1822. Tonga was elevated to a Diocese in June 1966; I am sure that none of the 56,000 cell phones in existence in Tonga were there in 1966.
So, let’s do the Math: for about 10 centuries (I am discounting the first 5 centuries), the “institution” could do little more but be “dominated” by Europe. 5 and a bit centuries ago, major incursions to what are the Americas (and other places around the globe), fueled by technology, adventure, and finding riches brought the “institution” to other lands. Difficulties in communication and transportation, however, would probably render any effort of “globalization” of the curia moot (it is amusing to imagine Pope St. Pius V picking up his zeroth generation iPhone to call Bishop Pedro Fernandes Sardinha in Salvador, Brazil). Prior to 1966, there would be no Bishop or Archbishop of Tonga to pick up a phone, either.
The renewal being brought by Pope Francis must be seen as an organic development, and, yes, there are European fiefdoms that must be dismantled. However, that the “institution” was “dominated for centuries by Europe” is a reality that could not have been any other way, for historical, geographical and, last but not least, technological factors.

Sat, February 14, 2015 @ 12:07 PM

2. taad wrote:
And the expense and logistics about getting these cardinals to Rome when needed, is not a problem? And when a disaster occurs, who will be able to get to Rome for the election of the next pope. On paper it may look good, but it is not very practical. And this is just a quick glance at it. Some other problems are sure to arise. Just like when term limits set in our government. Sounded good at first blush, but it reality it causes issues.

Sat, February 14, 2015 @ 4:24 PM

3. John Michael wrote:
My compliments Paulo on your realistic point of view.

Sat, February 14, 2015 @ 6:40 PM

4. Ron wrote:
Great history lesson. Francis'efforts to be more inclusive of far-flung, humble servants is appreciated nonetheless.

Sun, February 15, 2015 @ 8:42 AM

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