ROME – On the eve of Advent, Pope Francis elevated 13 prelates from around the world to the rank of cardinal Saturday, telling them their new title is not meant to propel them up the next rung on the ecclesial ladder, but is an invitation to follow the path of Jesus.

Speaking during his Nov. 28 consistory, Pope Francis centered his homily on the Gospel passage from Mark in which Jesus, while walking with his disciples on the road to Jerusalem, alludes to his coming crucifixion and death.

After this, the apostles James and John come to Jesus and ask him to “grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left, in your glory.”

Jesus, the pope said, told his disciples about the nature of his coming death in order “to prepare them for the trials to come, so that they could be with him, now and especially later, when he would no longer be in their midst. So that that they could always be with him, on his road.”

The road Jesus travels is that of the cross, he said. By asking Jesus for privileged seats in the Kingdom of Heaven, James and John “want to take a different road. Not Jesus’ road, but a different one. The road of those who, perhaps even without realizing it, ‘use’ the Lord for their own advancement. Those who – as Saint Paul says – look to their own interests and not those of Christ.”

Yet instead of getting angry at them, Jesus is patient, Francis said, and “excuses them, while at the same time reproaching them,” telling them that “You do not realize that you have gone off the road.”

Noting that this Gospel passage is often used during consistories, Pope Francis cautioned that while everyone getting the red had loves Jesus and wants to follow him, “we must always be careful to remain on the road. For our bodies can be with him, but our hearts can wander far afield and so lead us off the road.”

Saying there are many temptations to corruption in the life of a priest, Francis said “the scarlet of a Cardinal’s robes, which is the color of blood,” can also be a source of this temptation. For “a worldly spirit,” he said, it can become “the color of a secular “‘eminence.’”

Deviating from his prepared text, the pope said that when this happens, the person donning the cardinal’s red is “no longer a priest close to the people, but just ‘your eminence.’”

“Will you also feel this way?” he asked the new red hat recipients, adding that if they do, “You will be off the road.”

Due to ongoing social distancing restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, Saturday’s Mass was celebrated privately and not open to the public.

Other than the pope himself, the new cardinals, and the cardinals who are residents of Rome, there were around 150 others present who were either pastors or rectors of the titular churches where the cardinals will be assigned, or friends and family accompanying the new cardinals.

In total, the 13 prelates who got a red hat from Francis Saturday included nine electors eligible to vote in the next conclave and four who are over 80, meaning the title is honorary and they will hold no voting rights:

  • Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, the newly appointed secretary general of the Synod of Bishops
  • Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro, who was recently named prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints
  • American Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C.
  • Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Kigali, Rwanda
  • Archbishop Jose Fuerte Advincula of Capiz in the Philippines
  • Archbishop Celestino Aós Braco of Santiago, Chile
  • Archbishop Cornelius Sim of Brunei
  • Archbishop Augusto Paolo Lojudice of Siena and a former auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rome
  • Conventual Father Mauro Gambetti, who oversees the Sacred Convent in Assisi.
  • Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico (non-elector)
  • Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, the Vatican’s former observer to the United Nations in Geneva and a longtime ambassador (non-elector)
  • Father Enrico Feroci, pastor of the Shrine of Holy Mary of Divine Love in Castel di Leva (non-elector)
  • Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a Capuchin who for 40 years has served as the preacher for the Papal Household (non-elector)

Each of the new cardinals was present for the consistory apart from Sim and Advincula, who were unable to make the trip due to travel complications related to the coronavirus. They were still made cardinals during the consistory and are expected to get their red had and cardinal’s ring from the Vatican ambassador to their countries sometime in the future.

Gregory, the only American in the new bunch and also the United States’ first African American cardinal, was assigned to the titular church of Immacolata Concezione di Maria a Grottarossa in Rome, about 30 minutes northeast of the Vatican, which was built in 1935 to serve farmworkers in the area.

The parish is home to Rome members of the Missionary Family of Notre Dame, a French family of religious orders that enjoyed the support of the late French Cardinal Roger Etchegarray, who served as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace for 14 years under St. John Paul II.

Each of the cardinals present, both those who were elevated Saturday and those who got a red hat in previous consistories, as well as servers at the Mass, were wearing a face mask and were sitting in chairs three feet apart. Pope Pope Francis, who has been criticized for not wearing a mask in public, did not wear one.

Pope Francis closed his homily speaking of the “two roads” being walked in the day’s Gospel, the one of Jesus and the one of his disciples, saying that only Jesus through his crucifixion and resurrection “can save his straying friends who risk getting lost.”

“Even though the Twelve come off badly” in the Gospel, he said, “this text entered the canon of Scripture because it reveals the truth about Jesus and about us.”

“For us too, in our day, it is a message of salvation,” Francis said. “We too, Pope and Cardinals, must always see ourselves reflected in this word of truth. It is a sharpened sword; it cuts, it proves painful, but it also heals, liberates and converts us. Conversion means precisely this: that we pass from being off the road to journeying on God’s road.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen