VATICAN CITY (RNS) — During a ceremony welcoming new cardinals into the Catholic Church, Pope Francis spoke of the danger that occurs “when a man of the Church becomes an official,” calling them to more "compassion" in a time when the Vatican faces financial scandals and internal divisions.
“So many disloyal actions on the part of ecclesiastics are born of the lack of a sense of having been shown compassion, and by the habit of averting one’s gaze — the habit of indifference,” he said.
Pope Francis created 13 new cardinals at his sixth consistory on Saturday, 10 of whom are under 80 years old and therefore eligible to vote at the next conclave for his successor.
“Unless I feel I am the object of God’s compassion, I cannot understand his love. This is not a reality that can be explained. Either I feel it or I don’t. If I don’t feel it, how can I share it, bear witness to it, bestow it on others?” Francis asked.
“Concretely: Am I compassionate toward this or that brother or sister, that bishop, that priest? … Or do I constantly tear them down by my attitude of condemnation, of indifference?"
With the creation of these new Catholic princes, who share Francis’ emphasis on a missional and evangelizing church, Francis has now named a total of 91 new cardinals, and more than 52% of the voting cardinals, giving him the power to reshape the Church in his image.
Speaking to reporters before receiving his red hat on Saturday (Oct. 5), Spanish Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, who heads the Vatican's pontifical council for interreligious dialogue, said Pope Francis “made it understood that the church is a church on the move, a church open to all realities. And here I see this wealth in variety.”
Ayuso, whose career began as a missionary priest in Egypt and Sudan before serving as a promoter of interreligious dialogue in Kenya to Mozambique, is representative of the new cardinals. The new appointments showcase the “pastoral, missionary and interreligious dimension of the consistory,” he explained.
“You, Holy Father, with your tireless work, have often called us to be (the) Church going out — to go to the existential peripheries, to walk on a journey of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue,” Ayuso said during his welcoming address before receiving the red hat.
The new cast of cardinals also supports the pope’s efforts to create a more diverse and global hierarchy.
Retired English Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald, who is 82, won't be able to vote for the next pontiff, but he has been working on interreligious dialogue since John Paul’s historic 1986 inter-faith summit in Assisi, Italy, and continued under Pope Francis.
“John Paul II was way out ahead of us, and we were all just running to catch up with him,” said Fitzgerald about past efforts by the Catholic Church to create stronger ties with the Muslim faith. “In a sense, it’s something similar with Pope Francis, I think.”
Eight of the 10 new cardinals who are eligible to vote belong to religious orders, highlighting the pope's concern with elevating the work of missionaries and of religious life. Salesian Archbishop Cristóbal López Romero of Rabat, Morocco, a Spaniard, has spent his career in Paraguay, Bolivia and Northern Africa as a missionary.
“I think the pope wanted to make visible the churches that were almost invisible,” the archbishop told a small group of journalists at the Vatican. “He wanted to say to us that we are moving in a good direction, and we have to continue to work on the interreligious and inter-Christian dialogue and immigrant people.”
The question of immigration is another theme of this consistory. Among the new cardinals is Jesuit priest Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the section for migrants and refugees in the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, which is spearheaded by Francis himself.
Before Czerny's creation as a cardinal this weekend, he first had to be made a bishop on Friday. Beginning on Sunday, Czerny will be occupied with his new duties as special secretary to the Synod on the Pan Amazon Region, which runs through Oct. 27.
He took the status leap in stride. “I’m getting used to it, and I feel like it’s a call to deepen my service here. I look forward to see how that plays itself out. I’m very touched, and honored and even hopeful,” he said.