c. 2007 Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY _ In two days of ceremony and celebration last weekend (Nov. 24-25), Pope Benedict XVI expanded the highest ranks of the Roman Catholic hierarchy by elevating 23 men _ including two Americans _ to the College of Cardinals.
The events drew tens of thousands of Catholic faithful from more than a dozen countries to Rome, where they met and congratulated their religious leaders in an atmosphere that combined elaborate Vatican ritual with moments of informality.
Benedict bestowed the red hat of office (called a biretta) on the new cardinals at a service, known as a consistory, on Saturday morning inside St. Peter’s Basilica.
The pope presided from his throne underneath the basilica’s baroque altar canopy and a boys’ choir sang Latin hymns before a congregation that filled the immense church and spilled into St. Peter’s Square.
“Catholics know how to do ceremony,” said the Rev. Jay Armstrong, 47, a Methodist pastor from Belen, N.M., who attended the event with family members of Philadelphia native Cardinal John Patrick Foley, one of the two Americans honored that day. “It was majestic.”
Despite all the majesty, the mood at times recalled a sporting event or political rally, as hearty applause rang out at the mention of each new cardinal’s name. Clapping was especially enthusiastic for Emmanuel III Delly, the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad.
The pope pointedly mentioned Delly in his homily, explaining that his elevation was intended “to express in a concrete way my spiritual closeness and my affection” for Iraqi Christians, who Benedict said “now live in an extremely fragile and delicate political situation.”
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians, who reportedly numbered around 1 million before the fall of Saddam Hussein, are estimated to have fled the war-torn country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Delly was one of five “honorary” cardinals created on Saturday, all of them over the age of 80 and thus not eligible to vote for the next pope. Another was the Rev. Umberto Betti, an 85-year-old Italian Franciscan and old friend of Benedict’s, who entered the basilica in a wheelchair.
On Saturday afternoon, the two newest American cardinals gave a press conference and attended a reception in their honor at the Pontifical North American College, the elite American seminary.
As a duo of bearded seminarians played jazz guitar and cello, more than 1,000 American clergy, religious and _ most of all _ laypeople lined up to pay their respects. The turnout was especially large for Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and the first cardinal from the American Sun Belt.
Befitting the demographic profile of his rapidly growing archdiocese, DiNardo’s receiving line was ethnically diverse, with a prominent Hispanic presence that occasionally broke out into Mexican soccer chants and Mariachi songs while waiting to greet the cardinal.
“We are here to show the cardinal that the Hispanic community is with him,” said Maria Dominguez, 49, of Houston, who had made her first trip to Rome for the occasion.
Later the same afternoon, all of the new cardinals welcomed the public at a kind of Vatican open house that is a consistory tradition. Thousands of ordinary people and dignitaries alike made their way through the Bronze Doors and up the Royal Staircase into the Apostolic Palace, whose grand halls are ordinarily closed to public.
Among the many congratulating Baghdad’s Cardinal Delly was Dr. Ali Al-Hakim, an Islamic scholar and member of Iraq’s Shiite community representing Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi.
“We are here to make apparent that we are a nation united in a single country which is Iraq, even though my turban is different than the cardinal’s miter,” Al-Hakim said.
Interfaith relations, particularly those between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, provided a kind of running theme for the consistory weekend.
A closed-door meeting of the pope and cardinals on Friday focused on ecumenism. At a Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s, during which Benedict gave the new cardinals their ornate rings of office, he asked them to pray for “peace among all the disciples of Christ, as a sign of the peace that Jesus came to bring to the world.”
KRE/CM END ROCCA