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.”

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