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Gerard O’ConnellSeptember 30, 2023
Pope Francis places a red biretta on the head of new Cardinal Christophe Pierre, nuncio to the United States, during a consistory for the creation of 21 new cardinals in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 30, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)Pope Francis places a red biretta on the head of new Cardinal Christophe Pierre, nuncio to the United States, during a consistory for the creation of 21 new cardinals in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 30, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

As Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals in St. Peter’s Square today, Sept. 30, he told the college of cardinals—which now has 242 members from 91 countries, of whom 137 are under the age of 80 with a right to vote in the next conclave—that it is called “to resemble a symphony orchestra, representing the harmony and synodality of the church.”

He said he included the word “synodality” not only because the first session of the Synod on Synodality opens on Oct. 4, but also because he felt “the metaphor of the orchestra can well illuminate the synodal character of the church.”

Pope Francis told the college of cardinals that it is called “to resemble a symphony orchestra, representing the harmony and synodality of the church.”

Pope Francis went on to deliver a powerful message to all the cardinals on the eve of a synod that could be the most transformative event in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

A symphony thrives on the skillful composition of the timbres of different instruments: each one makes its contribution, sometimes alone, sometimes united with someone else, sometimes with the whole ensemble

“Diversity is essential, it’s indispensable,” the pope continued. “However, each sound must contribute to the common design,” he said, stressing the importance of listening among the members of the orchestra. “Each musician must listen to the others. If one listens only to himself, however sublime his sound may be, it will not benefit the symphony; and the same would be the case if one section of the orchestra did not listen to the others, but played as if it were alone, as if it were the whole.”

Pope Francis then addressed his own role in the symphony: “The conductor of the orchestra is at the service of this kind of miracle that is each performance of a symphony. He has to listen more than anyone else, and at the same time his job is to help each person and the whole orchestra develop the greatest creative fidelity: fidelity to the work being performed, but also creative, able to give a soul to the score, to make it resonate in the here and now in a unique way.”

It is good for all members of the church, “to reflect upon ourselves as the image of the orchestra, in order to learn to be an ever more symphonic and synodal Church,” Francis said, addressing his message “especially to all the members of the College of Cardinals.” He then reminded the cardinals that “we have the Holy Spirit as our master: the interior master of each one of us and the master of walking together. He creates variety and unity; He is harmony itself.”

Pope Francis delivered his homily at a vibrant and celebratory ceremony in St. Peter’s Square this Saturday morning as the sun blazed down on some 12,000 relatives and friends of the new cardinals from four continents came together for the special occasion, some carrying the flags of their homeland.

There is only one American in the new batch of cardinals: Robert Prevost, born in Chicago and former head of the Augustinian order.

During the ceremony that lasted just over one hour, Francis gave the symbols of office to each of the new cardinals after they had recited the oath of lifelong faithfulness to Christ and obedience to the pope. Each cardinal received a red hat, a ring and the title to a titular church in the city of Rome, thereby making them members of the clergy of the Diocese of Rome of which the pope is bishop. He shook their hands, and offered personal words of encouragement.

Only 20 of the 21 new cardinals were present in St Peter’s for today’s ceremony. Luis Pascual Dri, a 96-year-old Capuchin friar from Argentina—whom the pope honored by making him cardinal because of his tireless work as a confessor back in his homeland—was not present due to this advanced age. He will receive the red hat in Buenos Aires.

Eighteen of the new cardinals are under the age of 80 and so can be electors at the next conclave. This brings the total number of electors to 137 from 71 countries, of whom 99 have been created by Francis, 29 by Benedict XVI and 9 by John Paul II. 52 of the electors are European, 15 are from North America (U.S.A. and Canada), 24 Latin America, 24 Asia, 19 Africa and 3 Oceania.

It is notable that the college now has only half the number of Italian cardinals than it did at the 2013 conclave that elected Francis. After today’s consistory only 14 cardinal-electors are from Italy. Countries with more than 3 cardinals include the U.S.A., with 11; eight from Spain; France and Brazil have 6 each; India has five; Argentina, Canada, Poland and Portugal have four each and Germany has three cardinals.

Two of the 18 new cardinal electors are Argentinians: Victor Manuel Fernandez, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and the first Argentinian that Francis has appointed to a senior position in the Roman Curia since his election; and Ángel Sixto Rossi, the archbishop of Cordoba, a Jesuit, former student and friend of the pope. Both are very close to Francis.

There is only one American in the new batch of cardinals: Robert Prevost, born in Chicago and former head of the Augustinian order who is now prefect of the dicastery for bishops. As the first named on the list of new cardinals by Francis, it fell to him to address words of gratitude to the pope on behalf of his fellow cardinals; he emphasized that their new role is a call to humility, and to help the development of a truly synodal church.

The current nuncio to the United States, the French-born archbishop and Vatican diplomat Christophe Pierre also received the red hat today, along with the Swiss born nuncio to Italy, Emil Paul Tscherrig, who was previously nuncio in Argentina.

The new cardinal who attracted most media attention was the Chinese bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow, a Jesuit like the pope and one of two Jesuits in this consistory. As a result of his receiving the red hat, Hong Kong now has three cardinals, the other two being over the age of 80: Cardinals Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, a Salesian, and John Tong Hon.

For the first time in modern history, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is a cardinal: Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M., who was born in Italy.

[A full list of the new cardinals was published in America in July.]

This was Pope Francis’ ninth consistory since his election in March 2013. While the number of cardinal electors stands at 137 today, by the end of this year that number will have reduced to 132 as electors reach the age of 80. It will have reduced further to 119 by the end of 2024 by reason of age, opening the possibility for him to hold a tenth consistory then or soon after.

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