OXFORD, England — Portugal’s new cardinal will help bring the Church “closer to ordinary people” as well as highlight the evangelical potential of pilgrimages, a Portuguese observer said.
Cardinal-designate Antonio dos Santos Marto of Leiria-Fatima was described as a person who “clearly validates a certain vision of how the Church should be today, in dialogue with the world and close to people,” said Octavio Carmo, chief editor of the Portuguese Church’s Ecclesia news agency.
“He’s a warm person, who’s always aware the people before him are real, not just crowds and numbers, with personal stories to be heard and considered,” Carmo said.
Marto, 71, is one of 14 new cardinals who will be created by Pope Francis in a June 28 consistory at the Vatican.
Carmo told Catholic News Service that Marto had been in close touch with Francis during the yearlong centennial observance of the 1917 Marian apparitions at Fatima.
However, the nomination had still “genuinely surprised” local Catholics, Carmo said, because it was the first in a century for a Portuguese prelate not based in Lisbon or Rome.
Speaking to journalists May 20, Marto said he would use his new position to support the pope’s “purification of the Church” and help make families and young people “feel welcome.”
He added that he preferred cardinals to “present themselves in bishops’ cassocks rather than in red hats,” and said the Church needed greater closeness “to those with a new language” and “new relationship culture for seeing the world.”
“The Holy Father knows well what I think, and knows he has a supporter in me for his reforms,” Marto said.
The cardinal-designate has said he planned to soon issue a pastoral message on divorced and remarried Catholics, in line with Francis’s 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”). He also was to host a June 15-17 “festival of faith” to close the Fatima jubilee year.
Born May 5, 1947, in Tronco, Portugal, Marto was ordained in Rome in 1971. Thirty years later he became auxiliary bishop of Braga and in 2004 bishop of Viseu. He was named bishop of Leiria-Fatima in 2006, hosting visits by Popes Benedict XVI in 2010 and Francis in May 2017 to mark the Fatima centennial.
Among reactions to his May 20 nomination, Cardinal Manuel Clemente of Lisbon tweeted the cardinal-designate’s “intelligence and sensitivity” would strengthen the Portuguese Church and assist the pope’s work of “evangelization, justice and peace.”
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa welcomed the appointment in a May 20 message as “an hour of joy, not only for the Church but for all who esteem it.”
Speaking with CNS, Carmo said Marto had “been on the pope’s side on every question,” becoming one of Portugal’s “most outspoken and heard voices” in advocating a merciful attitude “to those not living perfectly in line with Catholic tradition.”
He added that Marto also had defended social justice, immigrants, refugees and persecuted Christians during regular news conferences at Fatima, and also could be expected to champion the evangelical potential of pilgrimages.
“Those standing close to Pope Francis will now have another important figure to rally around — who’ll also, as Bishop of Fatima, be one of the world’s best known cardinals,” the Ecclesia chief editor said.
Carmo also said the cardinal-designate was one of Portugal’s “most important theologians,” and had worked to create a “theological foundation” for the Fatima shrine.
“But he hasn’t just done this from an office. He’s been out on the ground, inviting people to discuss what Fatima signifies for today’s world,” Carmo said.
“His achievement has been to give the Fatima phenomenon a real contemporary meaning, and I think his nomination confirms the intuition he’s brought to this area.”