ROME – Creating 13 new cardinals Saturday, including 10 who will help choose his successor, most of whom are regarded as reliable papal allies likely to want to keep his agenda intact, Pope Francis stressed a virtue he’s made a cornerstone of his papacy – compassion.
The pope also warned that there’s a long history of followers of Jesus paying lip service to compassion but failing to honor it in practice.
“God’s love for his people is drenched with compassion, to the extent that, in this covenant relationship, what is divine is compassionate, while, sad to say, it appears that what is human is so often lacking in compassion,” the pope said.
Speaking to the 13 prelates who received their red biretta from his hands Saturday, Francis said compassion is a key word in the Gospels and is “forever written in the heart of God.”
Jesus’ compassion toward those who suffer is often highlighted in the Gospels, he said, explaining that “the more we read, the more we contemplate, the more we come to realize that the Lord’s compassion is not an occasional, sporadic emotion, but is steadfast and indeed seems to be the attitude of his heart.”
Francis then pointed to several biblical examples of this compassion in the healing of lepers, the curing of the maimed and in restoring sight to the blind.
In these moments, “we see the mission of Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind. He is a compassionate Redeemer,” the pope said, adding that Jesus “incarnates God’s will to purify men and women afflicted by the scourge of sin” and by seeking the “outcast” and those devoid of hope.
However, Francis noted that while Jesus himself constantly showed compassion, his disciples “often show themselves lacking compassion,” opting to let the hungry crowds fend for themselves, while Jesus performs a miracle with bread, or the priest and Levite who leave the dying man on the side of the road.
“There are always justifications; at times they are even codified and give rise to institutional disregard. This all too human attitude also generates structures lacking compassion,” he said, and urged the cardinals to remember that their lives are a product of God’s mercy and compassion, and to share this with others.
Named by Francis last month, the 13 priests and prelates were elevated in Saturday’s consistory, which took place during the pope’s extraordinary Missionary month and a day before the opening of the Oct. 6-27 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon.
In a greeting to the pope during Saturday’s consistory on behalf of all the new cardinals, new Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, noted that they each come from different backgrounds and ministries in the Church, calling it an “eloquent sign of the universality of the Church.”
Guixot also pointed to the fact that many of those donning a new biretta come from religious orders, which are often known for their work as missionaries.
A member of the Comboni Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Guixot said the “missionary church” Francis so often calls for “opens to encounter and dialogue with the men and women of our times.”
“It is a church,” he said, “which wants to bear witness to the mercy of God toward all those who are suffering due to violence and injustice.”
A member of a religious order himself, Francis has made healing the relationship between the Vatican and the orders a priority since his election, and Saturday’s consistory in many ways was an extension of that agenda.
Five of the ten new voting-age cardinals named by Francis belong to religious orders: Two Jesuits, Guixot, a Comboni missionary, a Capuchin and a Salesian. Two of the three “honorary” cardinals are also religious, including another Jesuit and a member of the Poor Servants of Divine Providence.
In what could be interpreted as another display of compassion, new Cardinal Michael Czerny, a Canadian Jesuit who serves as one of two undersecretaries for the migrants and refugees’ section of the Vatican office for Integral Human Development, has made this work his trademark.
Over the weekend Czerny took to social media to show his new episcopal pectoral cross, made from the wood of a boat full of migrants which landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa. He also shared photos of his episcopal coat of arms, depicting a boat of migrants crossing the sea above his motto, the Latin word Suscipe, meaning, “take and receive,” which is the first word of the final prayer of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
In his homily, Francis urged all cardinals present to question whether they are aware of God’s compassion for them, which he said “is not something optional, or a kind of evangelical counsel. No, it is essential. Unless I feel that I am the object of God’s compassion, I cannot understand his love,” he said.
“This is not a reality that can be explained. Either I feel it or I don’t. If I don’t feel it, how can I share it, bear witness to it, bestow it on others?” he said, asking them, “Concretely: am I compassionate towards this or that brother or sister, that bishop, that priest? … Or do I constantly tear them down by my attitude of condemnation, of indifference?”
Francis insisted that their ministry depends on their ability to be compassionate, saying the red robes the cardinals wear symbolize their readiness to “shed their own blood.” This readiness, he said, is rooted in an ability to both receive and show compassion.
“Otherwise, one cannot be loyal,” Francis said, saying that “so many disloyal actions on the part of ecclesiastics are born of the lack of a sense of having been shown compassion, and by the habit of averting one’s gaze, the habit of indifference.”
The pope closed by praying each of the cardinals would have “the grace to have a compassionate heart, in order to be witnesses of the One who has looked with favor upon us, who chose us, consecrated us and sent us to bring to everyone his Gospel of salvation.”
Beyond Guixot and Czerny, the other eight new voting-age cardinals named by Francis are:
- Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna
- José Tolentino Medonca, Vatican Archivist and Librarian
- Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, Archbishop of Jakarta, Indonesia
- Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez, Archbishop of Havana, Cuba
- Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
- Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg
- Álvaro Ramazzini Imeri, Bishop of Huehuetenamgo, Guatemala
- Cristóbal López Romero, Archbishop of Ribat, Morocco
Francis also named three “honorary” cardinals over the age of 80:
- Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, emeritus President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
- Sigitas Tamkevicius of Kaunas, Lithuania
- Eugenio dal Corso of Benguela, Angola
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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