ROME — Speaking to five new cardinals he created on Wednesday, Pope Francis pointedly told them they have not been called to become “Princes of the Church” but rather to serve, with their eyes open to the realities of the “sin of the world.”
Francis described that sinfulness in harrowing terms in his brief homily.
“It is the innocent who suffer and die as victims of war and terrorism; the forms of enslavement that continue to violate human dignity even in the age of human rights; the refugee camps which at times seem more like a hell than a purgatory; [and] the systematic discarding of all that is no longer useful, people included,” he said.
Jesus, the pope said, came to eliminate such evil “at its root,” and he urged the new cardinals to follow Jesus “resolutely.”
“He calls you to face as he did the sin of the world and its effects on humanity,” Francis told the five new cardinals he elevated in Friday’s consistory ceremony, the fourth of his papacy, urging the cardinals “not to let yourselves be distracted by other interests or prospects.”
Widely considered a surprise when it was announced by Francis during his Regina Coeli address on May 21, today’s consistory included five prelates representing vastly different parts of the world:
- Archbishop Jean Zerbo, of Bamako, Mali.
- Archbishop Juan José Omella of Barcelona, Spain.
- Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden.
- Bishop José Gregorio Rosa Chávez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, El Salvador.
- Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, Apostolic Vicar of Pakse, Laos, and Apostolic Administrator of Vientiane.
In his remarks to the pope on behalf of the new cardinals, Omella told the pontiff “we don’t want a self-referential church,” but “a pilgrim church on the pathways of the world … drying the tears of so many, and raising their hopes.”
Immediately after the consistory ceremony, Pope Francis and the five new cardinals were scheduled to go to the “Mater Ecclesiae” residence on Vatican grounds to meet Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. The new cardinals were then to return to the Paul VI Audience Hall for the traditional receptions with the public.
Today’s consistory is clearly in keeping with Francis’s aim to make the College of Cardinals increasingly global. Of the countries represented in today’s new crop, only Spain has had a cardinal before; overall, Francis has now created cardinals in 13 nations that have never before had a cardinal, including Haiti, Tongo and Myanmar.
Including today’s batch, Pope Francis has named nearly 50 cardinal electors, meaning about 40 percent of the traditional total of 120.
The last time a pope held a consistory ceremony this small, with five or fewer new cardinals, was under Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1977 – ironically, that was the ceremony in which Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich, who would later become Benedict XVI, entered the College of Cardinals. Monday, June 27, marked the 40th anniversary of that consistory.
Despite the small size, there are some striking individual storylines in today’s group.
Chávez of El Salvador, for instance, was the director of communications in the Archdiocese of San Salvador under the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, now “Blessed” Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 by gunmen linked to right-wing paramilitary groups while saying Mass. Chávez was one of Romero’s closest collaborators, and has long been considered one of the bearers of Romero’s legacy.
Pope Francis’s esteem for Romero has been made clear in multiple ways, including authorizing his beatification in 2015, and today’s red hat for Chávez has widely been seen as a sort of posthumous honor for Romero as well.
In Sweden, Arborelius, a convert from Lutheranism, represents the first-ever red hat not simply for his own country but in all of Scandinavia. It comes at a time when the tiny Catholic community in the region is growing, in part due to immigration, and gaining new visibility.
In Zerbo’s case, he took part in today’s consistory ceremony despite rumors of financial scandal back home. Reports say Zerbo and other Malian church officials have opened more than $13 million in Swiss bank accounts, and while opening such accounts is not illegal, the bishops have declined to provide information about where the funds originated.
A Malian bishop told The Associated Press that Zerbo and other prelates have “nothing to hide,” but he declined to elaborate.
In one indication of a mounting controversy, a Vatican Press Office official escorted Zerbo out of the public reception for new cardinals on Wednesday after journalists surrounded him and began asking questions about the allegations.
Cardinal-electors are those under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote for the next pope. As of today’s consistory, there are a total of 121 electors out of a grand total of 225 living cardinals. Two Italian cardinals will turn 80 in February, bringing the number of electors back under the traditional ceiling of 120.