ROME — “I am a pastor,” Cardinal-designate Enrico Feroci, 80, said after Pope Francis announced he would make him a cardinal. “I hope to continue being a pastor.”

The former director of the Diocese of Rome’s massive Caritas operation and former rector of its popular Shrine of Divine Love, Feroci for the past year has been pastor of the parish of Divine Love, which is attached to the shrine.

“I think that, through me, Pope Francis wanted to give a sign of esteem to all of his priests who work in the church of Rome, his diocese,” the newly nominated cardinal said. “That’s what I told the pope when he phoned” the evening of Oct. 25, hours after announcing he would create 13 new cardinals Nov. 28.

In an interview Oct. 28 with Avvenire, the Italian Catholic daily newspaper, Feroci said he was so visibly shocked by the announcement during the pope’s midday Sunday Angelus address that another priest decided to preside over the 12:30 Mass he was scheduled to celebrate.

Although most people were convinced Pope Francis chose to make him a cardinal because of his service to the poor through Caritas, most of the cardinal-designate’s 55 years of priestly ministry has been spent at seminaries and at Rome parishes.

Born Aug. 27, 1940, in Pizzoli, a town in the province of L’Aquila, he entered the minor seminary of Rome at the age of 11. After finishing high school there, he moved on to Rome’s major seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1965.

From his ordination until 1976, he worked at the two seminaries where he had studied, serving from 1968 to 1976 as vice rector of the minor seminary.

After 11 years of priesthood, he moved to the Rome parish of St. Frumentius, where he was associate pastor and then pastor until 2004.

During that time, he also served multiple terms as prefect of the area’s parishes, as member of the diocesan presbyteral council and finance council and as member of the diocesan College of Consultors, which organized the 1987-1992 Rome diocesan synod.

From 2004 to 2009, he served as pastor of St. Hippolytus and then was named director of Caritas, the Caritas foundation and the diocesan anti-usury foundation.

In choosing a new cardinal with that background, he told Avvenire, “I think Pope Francis wanted to take another opportunity to highlight the attention we must have for the poor, the least. They are, as is often said, ‘the flesh of Christ,’ and with our mission we priests are the first called to touch this flesh of Christ.”

“Obviously, during my years leading Caritas I had a certain visibility, but I think even in that case I represented many other priests working in the field,” he said. “If the pope is expressing his appreciation, it is not for me, but for what we do as priests.”

“For my part,” he said, “I’ve always done what my superiors asked of me, without seeking out particular forms of service or occasions for making a ‘career’ move.”

After eight years at the helm of Caritas, he was named rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love and rector of the attached seminary, which trains members of the diocesan-related Oblates of Divine Love. He stepped down in 2019 to take over the parish.