Friday, October 14, 2016

New cardinals, Francis’ vision and intentions

By the time the third Consistory of Francis’ pontificate is complete (the two previous ones were held on February 22, 2014 and February 14, 2015) – on November 19 – the Pope will have created a total of 56 cardinals: 12 non-voters (21%) and 44 voters (79%). 

Formulating an opinion on the criteria the Holy Father followed in deciding who to appoint to the College of Cardinals is not easy. Many of these criteria are often reasons or motivations that shall remain in the Pope’s heart forever. 

What the author of this article proposes instead, is an external reading from an observer or analyst’s point of view, based on comparative considerations, where two elements acquire importance: firstly, the biography and pastoral trajectory of the individuals chosen and secondly, the geographical location of the ecclesial communities of these shepherds. 

In Francis’ case, two considerations that have come up again and again since Sunday, say little or nothing. 

The first, which is almost litany-like, refers to the internationalisation of the College of Cardinals as a visible expression of the universality of the Church. This is now a given in every Consistory, particularly since Pius XII’s pontificate - he created 56 cardinals from 25 countries. 

This unwritten rule has been inexorably repeated in all Consistories held until now.  

John XXIII - 5 Consistories - 52 cardinals from 22 nations  
Paul VI - 6 Consistories - 143 cardinals from 52 nations  
John Paul II - 9 consistories - 231 cardinals from 69 nations  
Benedict XVI - 5 Consistories - 90 cardinals from 37 nations  

The second consideration, which doesn’t really hold water, is summed up in the slightly misused expression “cardinals from the periphery”. 

“Periphery” tends to refer to a geographical concept but this sense clearly falls short of Pope Francis’ intended use of the word. His interpretation of the word “periphery” is much more articulate and complex and certainly not limited merely to the geographical dimension (the distant ... that can be such while living in the heart of the dominant centres). 

The periphery also refers to critical situations where humanity bleeds, where injustice and exploitation degrade human dignity; where conflict and violence threaten peace and co-existence; where silence, indifference and hypocrisy conceal the truth about the evils of the world.  

Hence, the cardinals created by Pope Francis appear different to those created in the past. Here are some of their traits and profiles: 

The person - the shepherd  

1) A strong inclination toward the person and the shepherd’s path, the person. It is not the diocese, its importance, size, influence, prestige and power that captivate the Pope. His choice seems to have a non-negotiable basis, which is the man, the priest, the pastor. 

The custom according to which it was the dioceses that determined a cardinal’s see, seems to be a thing of the past for now. 

The shepherd takes precedence over the structure. This begins a fundamental new chapter we shall discuss at some other point, which the Pope has been expanding on each day: what kind of pastor responds better to the present and future situation of the Church (evangelists and not principles)? 

College of Cardinals: communion of equals  

2) It would seem that Pope Francis has chosen to translate internationalisation and universality dynamics into the inclusion of the small and the least, giving visibility to the forgotten or marginalised and equal ecclesial dignity, regardless of the fact that weak communities do not possess power, influence, fame, prestige and resources. 

Thus, the College of Cardinals is not seen as a geographical list that distinguishes between “big” and “small” but as a communion of peers and equals, in short, sister churches that are sister churches in practice, not just in words. 

Cardinals, the face of the Church and of the world  

3) Then there is a third profile to consider, which should be viewed as a consequence of the previous two. 

A College of Cardinals that increasingly reflects the global face of the Church, and thus the ecclesial dynamics, which are moving at a dizzying pace, showing growth and decline, challenges and priorities, impulses and delays. 

In short, a College of Cardinals that mirrors the world and its current state, more and more.

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