ROME — When Pope Francis spoke out sharply against the “virus of polarization,” three new American cardinals saw a chance for a serious examination of conscience.
“I thought it was very timely, what the Holy Father said,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin told journalists November 19.
He said that for him, the first thing to do in response is “to examine ourselves in the Church, to see whether we have unconsciously appropriated this virus” or somehow justified it “when it actually serves to divide.”
To do this, he said, could likely be considered “a resistance to the acts of the Holy Spirit.”
Tobin was among 17 priests and bishops who came to St. Peter’s Basilica from around the world to receive a red hat from Pope Francis Saturday during a special consistory set to coincide with the end of the Jubilee of Mercy.
The cardinal is currently Archbishop of Indianapolis but will head the Archdiocese of Newark to take over for retiring Archbishop John Myers.
“How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us,” he said, stressing that this attitude also infiltrates the Church in her communities, meetings and even priests.
“The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting,” the Pope said, stressing to the cardinals that “we are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts.”
Another U.S. bishop elevated alongside Tobin was Irish-born Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who was previously the Bishop of Dallas until the pope in August tapped him as the head of the Vatican’s new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
In response to the pope’s homily, Farrell told journalists he thinks the message Francis wants to convey is that “we all need to be a little more concerned and merciful and compassionate to each of our brothers and sisters” as the Year of Mercy comes to an end.
“We all need to learn how to respect each other. We can disagree on many points, but we need to enter into dialogue and conversation with each other. That’s what I believe the Holy Father wanted and that’s what I believe the Year of Mercy is all about,” he said.
He said mercy must continue “and we must live it.”
People can talk “all they want to about every theological problem we have in the world,” but if it isn’t done in a spirit of charity, it’s empty, he said.
Similarly, newly-elevated Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago told journalists after getting his red biretta that the Pope’s use of the word “virus” was spot-on, “because animosity can be contagious and it can be enflamed with circumstances that would allow it to be so.”
The cardinal said he believes this does happen and that this virus “does feed on itself,” but he also noted Francis’s insistence that “each one of us have a responsibility to break that cycle of animosity.”
When it comes to his own personal ministry in the Chicago archdiocese, Cupich said he is inspired by Pope Francis “to see the world like he does, to have that more global outlook,” giving more attention to poverty and persecution.
He noted that in a brief conversation with Pope Francis before the consistory, he assured the pope of his obedience to the Church and to the Petrine ministry.
Many of them come from the world’s peripheries.
As in previous years, Francis has stuck close to his vision of having a broader, more universal representation of the Church in the College of Cardinals. He has elevated many bishops from small countries or islands that have never before had a cardinal, as well as from countries which present particular challenges in terms of pastoral outreach, such as those suffering violence or persecution.
Out of the pope’s new nominations, seven come from countries that have previously never had a cardinal, including: the Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Mauritius Island, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Lesotho and Albania.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who attended the consistory, told CNA that while the pope frequently speaks about the need to go out to the world’s peripheries, “these ones have done it.”
He noted that there are “many people in the Church that don’t know about the existence of these places,” so now to now have a cardinal there is “an indication of the vision of the Holy Father for the universality, the catholicity, of the Church.”
The cardinal also spoke about the new cardinals’ brief encounter with Benedict XVI after the consistory, explaining that “all of them are very happy.” He said to see Benedict now is “a joy.”
O’Malley said the Year of Mercy has been the most successful Holy Year he has ever experienced.
“It touched the batteries of the entire world,” he said, adding “thousands of people returned to the sacraments, they understood how to practice mercy, how to forgive one another. It was really a spiritual success.”