ROME — For Cardinal-designate Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, his elevation to the cardinalate has little to do with his own merits and everything to do with God’s word.
“Since my service to the church has consisted almost exclusively in preaching the Gospel, I thought that the appointment was a recognition of the importance of listening to the word (of God) rather than the person proclaiming it,” Cantalamessa told Catholic News Service Nov. 3.
The 86-year-old Capuchin friar is among 13 prelates who will be inducted into the College of Cardinals Nov. 28.
Pope Francis gave him no warning that an announcement was coming; he found out only hearing the pope announce his name Oct. 25 during the Sunday Angelus address.
“I don’t need to tell you the surprise and emotion I felt,” he told CNS. “I would have thought it was someone else if I didn’t have such an unmistakable last name,” which means “sing the Mass” in Italian.
Born July 22, 1934, in Colli del Tronto, he was ordained a priest in the Franciscan Capuchin order in 1958.
Before St. John Paul II named him preacher of the papal household in 1980, Cantalamessa served as professor of ancient Christian history and director of religious sciences at the Catholic University of Milan.
As preacher of the papal household, for more than 40 years, Cantalamessa has offered weekly spiritual reflections to the Roman Curia and the pope during Advent and Lent and has preached the homily on Good Friday in St. Peter’s Basilica.
After preaching to St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, the cardinal-designate repeated a favorite explanation:
“In my case, the roles of preacher and listener are reversed. It is actually the pope who silently preaches to me and to the whole church, finding time every Friday morning in Advent and Lent to go and listen to the meditation of a simple priest of the church.”
However, his role as preacher is not confined to the walls of the Eternal City. In 2019, he was sent by Pope Francis to lead the U.S. bishops in a spiritual retreat as they deliberated better ways to address the sexual abuse crisis.
Recalling that “particularly delicate moment,” Cantalamessa said that among the fruits he witnessed were the participation of about 250 U.S. bishops as well as their attentiveness to “the meditation and liturgical prayer and silent adoration of the Eucharist” during the retreat.
With news continuing to surface regarding financial corruption and abuses in the church, the cardinal-designate told CNS that as a lecturer on the history of the church, he is “not so much surprised by the current scandals” and remains hopeful for the future of the Catholic Church.
“Looking at things in the very limited span of one’s life and century, we do not realize in how many ways the church today is immensely ‘purer’ than in past centuries: freer of power, pomp, wealth, nepotism, political scheming and — what matters most — is that we are no less rich in saints than in the past.”
“The fact that scandals today are brought to the surface and denounced — and more and more often on the initiative of the institution itself — is in itself great progress,” he added.
Cantalamessa confirmed to CNS that he will continue to serve as preacher of the papal household and that since his appointment “is an honorary title and does not involve particular pastoral commitments,” he plans to continue proclaiming “the Gospel by word and writing and to live my life as a Capuchin Franciscan.”
He also said that he is preparing to deliver his annual Advent meditations for Pope Francis and the Roman Curia, which will reflect on the current pandemic as “an opportunity to put some hidden truths and realities back into circulation,” realities such as “death, eternal life and Christ’s presence — thanks to the Incarnation — in the boat of this stormy world of ours.”