ROME — Cardinal-designate Paolo Lojudice’s work in Rome’s rough outskirts earned him such titles as “street priest,” “bishop of the Roma” community, and Pope Francis even told him the word was that he was the toughest bishop in the capital.

But the 56-year-old, who now is archbishop of the medieval Tuscan city of Siena, said he is just “a bishop of the people of God.”

Working with immigrants, Roma forcibly evicted from their camps, the poor, young sex workers and Mafia-controlled neighborhoods doesn’t make one a “street priest,” he told Avvenire, the Catholic newspaper, Oct. 27.

“It is being a priest and nothing more. Labels are a waste of time” as it all comes down to loving and following the Gospel, and not being partial to one part of a community or another, he said.

The cardinal-designate said he had had a private audience with the pope Oct. 19, but the pope did not drop any hint that less than a week later he would include the archbishop on his list of 13 new cardinals to be created in late November.

“It didn’t surprise me that it would be a surprise,” particularly given the fact he has been the archbishop just over a year and that Siena isn’t an archdiocese that usually has a cardinal, he told Vatican News Oct. 27.

“We have learned from Francis that he is able to shake up all plans,” he said.

Born in Rome in 1964, Lojudice was ordained in 1989 and assigned to parishes in the city’s roughest quarters; far from the city center, these areas lacked key public services, faced severe degradation and were rife with crime.

He was spiritual director of Rome’s major seminary and named an auxiliary bishop of Rome in 2015, serving the southern peripheries of the diocese and the seaport city of Ostia as vicar general until Pope Francis appointed him to Siena in 2019.

Naming him a cardinal does not mean the pope is giving him “a medal” for being good, he told Vatican News; it means “keep getting your hands dirty like you have been.”

“I always tried to interpret reality and find answers together with the people,” he said.

He said he didn’t hear his name when the pope announced his choices at the Sunday Angelus “because I was doing something else and couldn’t pay attention to the list of names, so I didn’t catch it” right off the bat.

It will still mean being “a priest at the service of the church” though in new and different ways, he added.