ROME – Pope Francis on Saturday elevated 13 new cardinals to the highest rank in the Catholic hierarchy and immediately warned them not to use their titles for corrupt and personal purposes, presiding over a ceremony marked from start to finish by the coronavirus pandemic.
Two new “princes” of the church, from Brunei and the Philippines, did not visit Rome due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, although they were shown on giant screens in St. Peter’s Basilica almost empty. Throughout the socially distanced ceremony, which took place at an unusually quick 45 minutes, both new and old cardinals wore protective masks.
Most took off their masks when they approached an unmasked Francis to receive their red hats, but Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the very first African-American cardinal, kept his on.
During his homily, Francis warned the new cardinals against bribing or using their new rank for personal advancement, saying their new title, “Eminence,” does not mean they should stand. away from their people.
His comments reflected Francis’ constant complaint about the arrogance of the clerical class, as well as his current battles to fight corruption in the Vatican hierarchy.
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“Let us think of so many types of corruption in priesthood life,” Francis told the new cardinals, deviating from his prepared text. If they think so well of themselves, “you will not be pastors close to the people, you will simply be ‘Eminence’. And if you feel that, you will have strayed from the road, ”the Pope warned.
The ceremony, known as the consistory, is the seventh of Francis’ pontificate and once again reflects the Argentine Pope’s effort to appoint cardinals from places that have never had them before or whose service he wants to highlight. the church. Nine are under 80 and have the right to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope, further strengthening the majority of voting-age prelates appointed by Francis to the College of Cardinals.
Gregory, the new Archbishop of Washington, is the first black American cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He told The Associated Press ahead of the ceremony that he viewed his appointment as “an affirmation of black Catholics in the United States, the legacy of faith and loyalty that we represent.”
Gregory’s appointment comes after a year of racial protests in the United States sparked by the latest murder of a black man by a white police officer. Francis endorsed the protests and cited the American history of racial injustices.
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“There is now an awareness of the need for racial reconciliation, an awareness that I have never seen at this level and intensity before,” said Gregory.
Another cardinal concerned with social justice is the retired Archbishop of Chiapas, Mexico, Cardinal Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, who has championed the rights of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and led efforts to translate the Bible and liturgical texts. in indigenous languages.
François visited Chiapas in 2016 and has long championed the rights of indigenous peoples. “That could be one of the reasons (he made me a cardinal) but I can’t confirm it,” Esquivel said on a Zoom call.
Vatican internal theologian-preacher Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa was also awarded a red hat, but he also successfully argued against being made a bishop, saying that at his age – 86 – he could not take responsibility. He also avoided a red cassock for Saturday’s ceremony, instead using his brown hooded monk robes covered with a white “ratchet” garment.
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After the ceremony, Francis and the new cardinals visited Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who lives in the Vatican Gardens in a converted monastery. The Vatican said Benedict – who is 93 years old and frail – “expressed his joy at the visit” and blessed everyone.
The ceremony took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which erupted in Italy in February and saw a resurgence this fall. The Vatican is under a modified lockdown, with the Vatican Museums closed and Francis’ public hearings canceled. Instead, he keeps them private, streamed live.
Cardinal candidates and others who came to Rome from afar for Saturday’s service had to undergo 10 days of Vatican-mandated quarantine at the Pope’s Hotel, where meals were brought to their rooms.
Usually consistories are full of parties and crowds, with days of receptions, masses, and dinners for new cardinals and their friends. The consistory itself is normally followed by “courtesy visits,” where the new cardinals welcome sympathizers and the general public in the grandeur of their own reception halls in the Apostolic Palace or the Vatican auditorium. This year there were no courtesy visits and each cardinal received a limit of 10 guests.
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With the new cardinals on Saturday, Francis appointed 73 of the 128 cardinals of voting age, against 39 appointed by Pope Benedict XVI and 16 by Saint John Paul II. While the outcome of a future conclave can never be predicted, it is no exaggeration to suggest that a strong majority of today’s voters likely share the pastoral and doctrinal attitudes of the pope who appointed them.
The geographic makeup of the College of Cardinals also shifted under Francis away from Europe, although Europe remains the largest voting bloc with 53 voters. The Americas – North, Central and South and the Caribbean – together have 37 cardinal electors, although about 40% of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Francis continued the trend of appointing cardinals from the “outskirts” of the Catholic Church: Brunei had its very first cardinal with the Vatican’s ambassador to the country, Cardinal Cornelius Sim.
Rwanda also had its only cardinal with the Archbishop of Kigali, Antoine Kambanda, whose family was massacred during the Rwandan genocide. Kambanda made the trip to Rome for the ceremony; Sin has remained at home due to COVID-19 restrictions.
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The first Jesuit pope in history also increased the number of cardinals belonging to religious orders, appointing three Franciscans in a year in which the pope, who is named after Saint Francis of Assisi, published an encyclical inspired by the saint’s call to fraternity and solidarity. with the weakest.