An evening with a ‘Pope Francis cardinal’
Updated: Feb 19
Minnesotans got a glimpse this week of what a “Pope Francis cardinal” looks and sounds like, and it was a refreshing change from the “princes of the church” figure of the past.
Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis delivered a talk on immigration at the University of St. Thomas Oct. 24. Titled “Welcoming the Stranger While Challenging the Fear,” it pulled no punches when it came to the demands of the Gospel on an issue that has become a political football.
Archbishop Tobin cited comments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has denounced refugee resettlement programs, including those sponsored by the Catholic Church, and claimed they raise the threat of terrorism in the United States. Trump recently called efforts to resettle refugees from Syria “the great Trojan horse of all time.”
Tobin pointed out that three days after Trump’s comments, made Oct. 9, Pope Francis issued a clear call for greater global efforts to welcome refugees and immigrants on the part of states, institutions and church agencies. The same week, the pope said Christians who close their doors to refugees are “hypocrites.”
“The positions of Mr. Trump and Pope Francis regarding the resettlement of refugees, particularly those fleeing the carnage in Syria, are well-known and diametrically opposed,” Tobin said.
Two weeks ago, Archbishop Tobin was a surprise choice when Pope Francis announced his list of 17 new cardinals, to be created next month in Rome. This pope has broken the mold when handing out the cardinal’s red hat, skipping over more prominent churchmen and often choosing those who share his pastoral outlook.
Tobin, like many of Francis’ choices, also shares the pope’s willingness to push social and political policies – even when it might lead to the age-old accusation of the church “meddling in politics.”
Tobin made headlines late last year when he denied Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s request to put a halt to Catholic Charities’ resettlement of a Syrian refugee family. The family is now living in Indianapolis and Pence, of course, is Trump’s running mate. Just three weeks ago, a federal court blocked Pence’s attempt to block Syrian refugees, saying it was discriminatory.
In his presentation, Archbishop Tobin reviewed the history of immigration in the United States, which is essentially the history of the country. He noted that Catholic Charities last year resettled about one-third of the 70,000 refugees who came to the United States. That is consistent with a faith that professes to see Jesus in the stranger, he said.
“This welcome is an essential part of our Catholic identity,” he said.
At the same time, Tobin examined some of the causes of anti-immigrant sentiment. The actual threats made by terror groups are one factor, he said, even though many refugees are themselves victims of terrorism. He also cited the tendency by for-profit major media to run fear-based stories about refugees, with scrolling headlines like, “Taking refugees could open the door to jihadists.”
Another cause, Tobin said, was a backlash to globalization among people who fear that the country or their culture is losing its identity. He noted, however, that immigration is the most embodied form of globalization and the most regulated, while financial dealings, the most unembodied aspect, are the least regulated.
Tobin told a couple of amusing stories about Pope Francis.
During a meeting of church leaders in Rome, Francis listened as one bishop “got in his face” over the pope’s inclination to ignore security concerns. For example, during a general audience in St. Peter’s Square, a group of Latin American pilgrims handed the pope a gourd full of mate, a traditional tea, and he took a sip – to the alarm of the Vatican gendarmes. (The pope was said to have told his security people, presumably in jest, “But they were Argentinians, they weren’t cardinals.”) When the bishop kept pressing the security issue at the Rome meeting, the pope finally replied: “Giving my life for Jesus and his kingdom wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to me – or to you.” At that, the bishop let the matter drop.
On another topic, Archbishop Tobin said that several months after his visit to the United States last fall, Pope Francis told him he had been “amazed” by the country.
What impressed him?
“He told me, ‘I never realized how affectionate Americans are. The second thing was, I didn’t know they took their faith so seriously.’ So even the Holy Father needs an encounter to do away with stereotypes. Maybe he saw a lot of Rambo movies when he was a kid.”