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ROME – Calling for the gathered prelates to be meek, faithful, close to their flocks and tender, and to pay attention to both the big and small events of life so people can “savor the presence of Jesus alive in our midst,” Pope Francis created 20 new cardinals Saturday, including 16 eligible to vote for the next pontiff.
“To us, who in the church have been chosen from among the people for a ministry of particular service, it is as if Jesus is handing us a lighted torch and telling us: ‘take this; as the Father has sent me so I now send you’,” Francis told the cardinals. “In this way, the Lord wants to bestow on us his own apostolic courage, his zeal for the salvation of every human being, without exception.”
Francis spoke to the prelates of the “fire” that Jesus “came to bring the earth, a fire that the Holy Spirit kindles in the hearts, hands and feet of all those who follow him.” God himself, Francis said, is a “powerful flame” that “purifies, regenerates, and transfigures all things.”
But there is also a slow-burning fire, the pope said, that of the “charcoal,” which makes God’s presence warm and nourishing for everyday life.
The “fire” that comes from “presence,” he said, was once experimented and shared by Saint Charles de Foucauld, a poor hermit Francis declared a saint earlier this year. He “lived for years in a non-Christian environment, in the solitude of the desert, staking everything on presence: the presence of the living Jesus, in the word and in the Eucharist, and his own presence, fraternal, amicable and charitable,” the pope said.
Francis listed several examples of that charcoal fire that is present in the “small” things, such as the consecrated who live in the “quiet and enduring fire in their workplace, in interpersonal relationships, in small acts of fraternity. It is also in the unassuming ministry of a parish priest, in the Christian married couples and their “homemade” prayers, and in the elderly, representing “the hearth of memory, both in the family and the life of the community.”
“How important is the fire of the elderly!” he said. “Around it families unite and learn to interpret the present in the light of past experiences and to make wise decisions.”
“What does this twofold fire of Jesus say in a special way to me and to you?” Francis said. “I think it reminds us that a man of apostolic zeal is impelled by the fire of the Spirit to be concerned, courageously, with things great and small.
Pope Francis’s remarks came Saturday during a consistory for the creation of new cardinals.
He told the prelates who received the red hat, along with the majority of the members of the College of Cardinals who were on hand in Rome for the ceremony, that a cardinal loves the church, “whether dealing with great questions or handling everyday problems, with the powerful of this world or those ordinary people who are great in God’s eyes.”
He offered two late cardinals as role models: Italian Agostino Casaroli, Secretary of State under Pope John Paul II and the most important figure behind the Vatican’s relations with the Soviet bloc, who also visited young inmates in a juvenile prison in Rome; and Nguyễn Văn Thuận of Vietnam, defined by Francis as someone who “was led by the fire of his love for Christ to care for the soul of the prison guards who watched over him at the door of his prison cell.”
Văn Thuận was imprisoned for 13 years, nine of those in isolation.
Upholding his custom of looking towards the peripheries and the global south for the majority of the appointees, Francis named four cardinals from countries that had never had one before: Paraguay, Mongolia, Singapore and East Timor, the country with the second largest number of Catholics in Asia.
New Cardinal Leonardo Ulrich, from Manaus, Brazil, also is the first ever cardinal to come from the Amazon region.
Italian Giorgio Marengo, a 48-year old missionary who served as the administrator of the Catholic Church in Mongolia, home to some 1,500 Catholics, is the youngest of the red hats from the class of 2022.
Belgian Bishop Lucas Van Looy was supposed to be made a cardinal on Saturday, too, but decided not to accept when the announcement of Pope Francis’s decision caused uproar due to his alleged mismanagement of the sexual abuse crisis. Had Van Looy accepted, this would have been the largest of the eight consistories by the Argentine pontiff.
Of the 20 new cardinals, almost a third come from Asia. With them, the continent reaches 20 electors in a hypothetical conclave and becomes the third most represented continent, behind Europe (53) and the Americas (39) and ahead of Africa (17).
Francis has appointed 83 of the 132 cardinals who would take part in a conclave if it were to happen today. Among the members of the College of Cardinals who elected him in 2013, there were 10 Asians, who represented 8 percent of the college, while now there are 21.
Only one of the new cardinals hails from the United States: Robert McElroy, from San Diego.
Francis has a busy schedule ahead. On Sunday, he will travel to the Italian city of L’Aquila to become the first pope to open the holy door of the annual Celestinian Pardon.
As per his own words in an interview with a local newspaper, his visit will be centered around forgiveness, particularly due to the ongoing conflicts in the world, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It takes more strength to forgive than to wage war… Forgiveness is the only possible weapon against all war,” Francis told Il Centro.
On Monday and Tuesday, he will hold the second extraordinary consistory of his pontificate. During a series of meetings most of the cardinals from around the world, who came for Saturday’s ceremony but also for this, will discuss the new Vatican constitution that became effective June 1. For most of the cardinals, these days will represent the first real opportunity for them to talk with one another in person.
On Sept. 4, Francis will preside over a beatification ceremony for one of his predecessors, Pope John Paul I.
Such a demanding schedule, together with problems in his right knee that have forced him to rely on a wheelchair or a cane, have led many to speculate about a resignation. However, Francis has made it clear in recent interviews that he has not considered this option thus far.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma