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ROME – This week the church’s most exclusive club, the College of Cardinals, is welcoming its new members, who broaden its composition by featuring an increasingly global and younger cadre of leaders, who do not belong to the western world and thus have other priorities, and who exude zeal to implement the pope’s vision for evangelization.
On Saturday, Pope Francis created 20 new cardinals, who will play a key role in implementing the reforms he has attempted to roll out since taking office in 2013.
The cardinals are currently participating in an Aug. 29-30 meeting to study the pope’s recent reform of the Roman Curia – the Vatican’s central governing body – and to get to know one another.
Of the new so-called “cardinal electors” – those under 80 and eligible to vote in the next conclave – most are in their mid-60s, a handful are in their 50s, and the youngest is just 48.
Notably, the prelates welcomed into the College of Cardinals this weekend come largely from places outside the world’s traditional centers of power.
In conversations with media ahead of Saturday’s consistory, several of the new cardinals conveyed their eagerness to assist the pope in his reforms, including his focus on evangelization and service to the poor and those on the peripheries.
Asked by journalists if he’s part of a “new generation” of cardinals, Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, 70, said this means, “a different type, not so serious.”
The former bishop of Daejeon, South Korea, and the current prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Clergy, You said that given the pope’s diverse cardinal nominations in the past few consistories, the majority of cardinals now “are pastors.”
“Because of this, all together, there is a pastoral and spiritual vision, not so much juridical,” he said, adding that the major documents Pope Francis has published throughout his nearly 10-year reign – including Evangelii Gaudium, Fratelli Tutti, Laudato Si, and most recently, Predicate Evangelium – are also heavily pastoral in nature.
For You, trying to live according to this vision “will be a new reform, it will be a renewal of the church, it will be a positive change. I hope to help carry it forward with the pope.”
Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, prefect of the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, who at 48 is now the youngest cardinal, said his attitude during this week’s meeting is one of “serving.”
“Being the youngest, I’ll help carrying cups and emptying food, creating an atmosphere in which everyone really feels at home, and also hopefully releasing other people from the embarrassment they might have in welcoming me, because I am fully aware of being the ‘littlest’ one in the group,” he told journalists Saturday.
Speaking of the pope’s reforms, Marengo told Crux he believes Pope Francis “is really inviting the whole church to go back to Gospel values in a way that is also concrete and visible.”
“It’s a call to somehow refer again, over and over again, to the church described in the Acts of the Apostles,” which is a community Marengo said is especially important to him, because “as a small group of faithful in Mongolia, we somehow feel close to the reality of the first Christian communities.”
The pope, he said, “is sincerely and strongly emphasizing the need to renew the church from within, to return to the basics of the Gospel and to apply it to the life of every day.”
In his own community, Marengo said this attitude implies having “a constant attitude of discernment, another key word of the pontificate, to discern the ways of the Holy Spirit, letting every voice be heard within the church, in an atmosphere of prayer.”
“Going back to the contemplative dimension of the church is also very crucial, and I think Pope Francis has it in his heart, so it’s a lesson for us to learn how to discern by kneeling down, and worshipping the Lord…and then spending time in listening to each other, to find ways that will help us to be evangelical in the true meaning of the word,” he said.
As a small Catholic community, which is made up of roughly 1,300 people served by a handful of parishes, Marengo said Mongolians have a lot to offer the universal church in terms of how they live their faith.
Above all, the value of their faith, he said, is seen in “the genuineness of their turning to Christ, even if they are small.”
“They might not be rich, but to be witnessing what the Holy Spirit does in the lives of these individuals that we know by name, I think it can be a source of richness for the rest of the church, that nothing, no one, is so little that they are not important in the eyes of God,” he said.
To this end, Marengo recalled a recent conversation with Pope Francis in which the pontiff made reference to the 1954 Italian film La Strada by Federico Fellini in which one of the main characters, in trying to comfort the female lead, picks up a stone from the dirt and says, “even this small stone is important” and is useful for something.
“No one is not important; everybody is important,” Marengo said. “So, I think the choice of the pope in our regard also tells us about that.”
Cardinal Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, 71, is the Archbishop of Manaus and the first-ever cardinal for Amazonas state in Brazil.
Speaking to journalists Saturday, Steiner highlighted his work with poor and remote communities, saying his passion for the poor and marginalized he serves, many of whom belong to small villages tucked deep in the Amazon rainforest, comes from his own family roots.
Steiner, a member of the Franciscans, said he grew up in a small village with “a very deep spirituality,” and that his parents were both deeply religious people who prayed the rosary nightly, attended Mass on Sundays, and participated “in every aspect of the life of the church.”
“Sometimes my father brought people who lived far away and were poor for lunch, and they ate before we did. This always left a deep impression. He was a man who, and also my mother, served everyone,” he said, saying his Franciscan spiritual training also help him want to be “closer to the poorest.”
Asked about controversial hot-button issues that came up during the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon such as the married priesthood and women’s priestly ordination, Steiner said these are not the primary concerns of his people.
Steiner said his archdiocese has been undergoing a local “synodal path” that will conclude in October, and they have already sent in their contribution for the ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality, which will culminate with a global gathering of bishops in Rome next year.
As part of this process, they consulted broadly with priests, consecrated people, Indigenous communities and so-called “river peoples,” Steiner said, saying “the main question of the laity was formation.”
“They didn’t ask for other things,” he said, saying it is church leaders who have raised these other, broader issues, “because how is it possible to attend to an archdiocese with almost a thousand communities with 172 priests? It means some communities only get communion once or twice a year.”
“This makes us think, but the communities are more concerned with living the Gospel; they want more formation,” he said.
Having respect for their culture is also important, he said, noting that westerners often seek to impose their own structures, but Indigenous “have a different way” of doing things.
“To take this cultural diversity seriously, at times it can be difficult, but we must be able to do it. Pope Francis says this,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen