ROME — Cardinal-designate Marcello Semeraro did not have to look far for a heavenly patron to assist him when he took on a new job at the age of 72 and then found out 10 days later that he would be made a cardinal.
He chose Blessed Carlo Acutis, an Italian who died in 2006 at the age of 15 and was beatified Oct. 10.
Pope Francis appointed Semeraro prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes five days after Acutis’s beatification Mass in Assisi and announced Oct. 25 that he would induct the Italian bishop into the College of Cardinals Nov. 28.
Semeraro did not attend the beatification Mass but was in Assisi Oct. 19 to celebrate a liturgy ending an extended period when the Italian teen’s body was on display for veneration.
The 72-year-old cardinal-designate told Vatican News, “When I found myself at his tomb and looked at this young blessed, I remembered an icon” that Pope Francis had given him. “It was an icon called ‘Holy Koinonia’ and has a young monk carrying an elderly monk on his back. At a meeting with young people, the pope spoke about this icon and asked young people to carry the dreams of the church and its hopes as well.”
“And, standing before the body of Blessed Carlo Acutis, I asked this young man to carry me and help me live worthily the ministry to which the pope had called me,” he said.
The cardinal-designate, who has been bishop of Albano, south of Rome, since 2004 and secretary of Pope Francis’ international Council of Cardinals since 2013, said the key to understanding Pope Francis’ choice of 13 new cardinals is that he listed first the secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal-designate Mario Grech.
“Synodality,” Semeraro said, is “the church’s journey of communion,” a style of living the faith that involves every member making his or her contribution through words, actions and prayer.
As prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, he said, he is focused on another aspect of synodality, “another communion, which is the communion with heaven. We who are serving and living in the church here on earth must try to mirror that heavenly communion toward which we are walking, as the recent feast of All Saints tells us.”
Announcing the new cardinals, Pope Francis asked people to pray that they would help him “in my ministry as bishop of Rome, for the good of the entire holy faithful people of God.”
That ministry, Semeraro said, consists of “taking care of one another, helping each other, bearing each other’s burdens, as St. Paul says,” and Pope Francis asks all Catholics to take responsibility for sharing that mission.
His former diocese, Albano, includes the town of Castel Gandolfo, where the papal summer villa is located. Pope Francis has been a very infrequent visitor, but when he has gone out to the villa, Semeraro was there to greet him.
Now-retired Pope Benedict XVI used the summer villa much more often and continues to do so, the cardinal-designate told Avvenire, the Italian daily Catholic newspaper Oct. 27. He said the retired pope was driven out there Oct. 23 and was pushed through the gardens in his wheelchair as he prayed the rosary.
“We conversed for almost half an hour, and I found him as lucid as ever. It was moving and a great comfort for me,” he told Avvenire, which he serves as president of the board.
Born Dec. 22, 1947, in Monteroni di Lecce, he studied for the priesthood at the Puglia regional seminary and then was sent to Rome where he earned his doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Lateran University. He was ordained the priesthood in September 1971.
He taught theology in Puglia and at the Lateran University until July 1998 when St. John Paul II named him bishop of Oria. Six years later, Pope Benedict named him bishop of Albano.