[On Sunday, Oct. 9, Pope Francis announced a consistory on Nov. 19 for the creation of 17 new cardinals, including 13 under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote for the next pope. Crux is offering a series of profiles of the new cardinals.]
ROME—When Pope Francis announced the name of new cardinals on Sunday, some were shockers, others basically unknown. But one of them, at least in many corners of Spain, was an entirely expected choice: Juan Carlos Osoro, Archbishop of Madrid.
Osoro was moved from Valencia to the Spanish capital by Francis in 2014, to replace Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela. Only months before the transfer, the local bishops voted him vice-president of their conference.
The pontiff has joked with him on occasions, calling him “don Carlos, the pilgrim,” because he’s constantly walking around his diocese.
In Madrid, however, many have dubbed Osoro the “Spanish Francis”: Pastorally oriented, carrying “the smell of the sheep,” highly concerned with religious vocations, the youth and the family, but also a man who “wastes” time being spiritual director of many young people while he’s busy leading one of Europe’s key dioceses.
Rodrigo Pinedo, Osoro’s spokesperson and a 28-year old layman, defined his boss as someone very close to the people, “who likes being with the faithful and leading a church that goes after those who are cut off and critical of the Church that only tends to those who are ‘ours,’ with closed doors.”
Among the many things the soon-to-be-created cardinal did when he arrived in Madrid, Pinedo told Crux, was to launch a diocesan plan for evangelization, trying to capture a realistic image of how Catholics in the city live their faith and what are the most concrete ways to reach those who are cut off.
Father Gabriel Benedicto, the parish priest of La Paloma, also underlined Osoro’s particular attention to ministering to youth. The cardinal has invited young Catholics in Madrid to join him every first Friday of the month for a prayer vigil, where he takes the time to dialogue with them and to greet as many as he can.
Dialogue, the priest said, is another key issue of the archbishop, who like Francis often preaches about a Church that “goes out,” trying to approach the world through common concerns and avoiding conflicts.
The prelate is also very focused on religious vocations, especially those to the priesthood. “He knows the Church needs shepherds that take care of the flock,” Benedicto said on Sunday.
When Osoro left the dioceses of Valencia, the seminary kept growing, with 51 seminarians in 2012 and 61 in 2013.
“Talking to us, he’s also very keen on calling us to be faithful to our vocation, and to propose it to young men as a possibility,” Benedicto said.
The priest has welcomed his boss several times. Most notably, during the feast day of Our Lady of La Paloma, marked every August 15, during Spain’s summer break time. Despite the date, the celebration attracts thousands, many more than that of Our Lady of Almudena, the city’s actual patroness.
Our Lady of la Paloma has been, since the late XVIII century, the mother of the people, especially those who are on the outskirts, the poor, the elderly and the youth. That attention also includes those who live “on the spiritual outskirts,” as Benedicto said.
“Those who have lost their faith, who are far from the Church or dubious, come to celebrate her on August 15, making it a unique moment to meet with those who are away,” he added.
For this reason, Osoro has made it an immovable appointment on his calendar, arriving three hours before the Mass to start to hear confessions.
“It’s a great evangelizing moment, a place for fostering encounter,” and not only with the faithful, but also with the government, as the authorities are usually VIPs, presenting a unique opportunity for dialogue.
The archbishop’s preference for this feast, together with that of Saint Isidore the Laborer, is reminiscent of those Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – today Pope Francis – used to have for Our Lady of Lujan, patroness of Argentina, and Saint Cajetan, known locally as the patron of bread and work.
Bergoglio would always attend both, celebrate Mass and spend hours with the faithful. Every first weekend of October, close to a million people walk the 40 miles that divide Buenos Aires from her shrine, in La Plata, and the archbishop was often seen walking much of the distance, hearing confession and counceling the youth.
The Argentine too saw these popular manifestations of faith as an opportunity to reach out to people wherever they were, instead of waiting for them to go to the sacristy.
Another thing Osoro did when he arrived in Madrid was to visit the cloistered convents to ask the nuns and novitiates to pray for his ministry, something which, technically, they would have done even without the visit.
Beyond his pastoral approach, those close to him regard him as very orthodox in the faith, yet he refuses to be labeled as liberal or conservative. Once asked about it, he said he was neither, but instead “a man of the Church.”
“The truth is that a man of the Church can only be a man of dialogue. If there’s something the Church needs to do, it’s to incarnate herself where she lives and this implies dialogue,” he said.
“If being faithful to the apostolic succession; to Pope Benedict XVI and before him to John Paul II; being a man of communion with the other bishops; to endorse the Church’s doctrine and the Catechism… if all of this is considered liberal, then I’m liberal. And if it’s conservative, then I’m conservative,” he said, adding that the label at times is in the eye of the beholder.
Although Francis’s decision to make the Spaniard a cardinal was expected, the man in question wasn’t privy to the pope’s decision until Sunday at noon, when the archbishop emeritus of Oviedo, whom he succeeded, gave him a call as Osoro was boarding a plane.
“I didn’t believe him because I thought he was one of those friends you have who want it to happen, but nothing else,” Osoro told Cope, the radio station of the Spanish bishops on Sunday.
The appointment, he continued, calls for sincere gratitude towards Francis, “for the trust the appointment implies. Personal merits, as you know, I don’t have many, but it is true that throughout my life I’ve tried to not to keep anything for myself but to give it all to the Church and the Christians I’ve served,” wherever the popes have sent him.
With Osoro’s nomination, Spain will now have four voting cardinals in case there’s a conclave to succeed Pope Francis in the near future. In order of age, they are: Lluís Martínez Sistach, emeritus of Barcelona; Ricardo Blázquez, of Valladolid; Antonio Cañizares, of Valencia, and Osoro. Spain also has four cardinals over the age of 80, including Antonio María Rouco Varela, emeritus of Madrid.