ROME — Although he had a degree in mechanical engineering, Cardinal-designate Mauro Gambetti decided to dedicate his life’s journey to a different kind of builder, St. Francis of Assisi.
Not far from where a young St. Francis heard the Lord call him to “go and rebuild my church” is the Sacred Convent of Assisi, where the cardinal-designate has served as custos since 2013.
He will be one of the youngest men elevated to the College of Cardinals Nov. 28, having just celebrated his 55th birthday Oct. 27, two days after Pope Francis announced his name.
He told Vatican News that as soon as he heard his name, he said it must be a “papal prank.”
But after it sank in, he said he welcomed the news “with gratitude and joy in a spirit of obedience to the church and of service to humanity at a time that is so difficult for all of us.”
“I entrust my journey to St. Francis, and I take his words on fraternity as my own. (It is) a gift I will share with all children of God along a path of love and compassion toward the other, our brother or sister,” he said Oct. 25.
Just a few weeks earlier, on Oct. 3, the cardinal-designate welcomed Pope Francis to Assisi to celebrate Mass at the tomb of St. Francis and sign his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, on the social, political and economic obligations that flow from being children of God and brothers and sisters to one another.
Expressing his thanks to everyone who sent prayers, notes, texts, emails and phoned after the announcement that he would become a cardinal, the Conventual Franciscan wrote Oct. 29, “We have worked and committed ourselves together with many of you over the years to making the world more human and fraternal according to the Gospel.”
While the cardinal-designate has made few comments to the press, those who know him released numerous statements expressing their joy and praise.
The Franciscan community at the convent said that with their joy, there was also sadness for losing a brother “so loved by us and priceless for Franciscan fraternity.”
The provincial vicar of the Italian province, Father Roberto Brandinelli, wrote in a statement, “Once again, we were caught off guard. Many of us imagined the possibility of Brother Mauro being nominated a bishop given his abilities and the excellent service” he has provided. “But we did not think he would be appointed a cardinal. Not now, at least,” when he wasn’t even a bishop.
The last time a Conventual Franciscan was made a cardinal, he said, was in the consistory of September 1861 when the Sicilian friar, Antonio Maria Panebianco, received his red hat.
The nomination ofGambetti, Brandinelli said, “fills us with joy and makes us proud of our family of Conventual Franciscans, who are particularly appreciated during this season of the universal church.”
Born in a small town near Bologna, the cardinal-designate joined the Conventual Franciscans after earning his degree in mechanical engineering. He also received degrees in theology and theological anthropology. Ordained to the priesthood in 2000, he then worked in the pastoral care of young people and vocational programs for the Emilia-Romagna region.
In 2009, he was elected superior of the Bologna province of St. Anthony of Padua and served there until 2013 when he was called to be general minister and custos of the Sacred Convent of St. Francis of Assisi.
He was also appointed episcopal vicar for the pastoral care of the Basilica of St. Francis and other places of worship overseen by the Conventual Franciscans in the diocese.
He was elected to a second four-year term as custos in 2017; that term was to have ended in early 2021, but with his elevation to the College of Cardinals, his successor, Conventual Franciscan Father Marco Moroni, assumed his new role earlier.