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Noga TarnopolskyOctober 06, 2023
Pope Francis talks with new Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, after presenting the red biretta to him 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 talks with new Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, after presenting the red biretta to him 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)

Perhaps because the large, white outdoor papal throne was already in place for Saturday night’s ecumenical prayer vigil on Sept. 30, just ahead of the opening of the Synod on Synodality, or because as many as 12,000 places were reserved for the occasion, Vatican officials decided at the last moment to move the 2023 consistory from inside Saint Peter’s Basilica outdoors to St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis’ new cohort of cardinals spans the globe, including three new cardinals from his native Argentina. The ceremony’s guests sat together in national clumps. A large contingent of South Sudanese, well-wishers of Cardinal Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla, 59, sat behind a smaller group from Israel, Palestine and Jordan, who came to honor Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 58, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Among the church’s youngest cardinals, these two men carry the Vatican’s and their people’s heavy hopes for advancing the cause of peace in their troubled lands.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa: “Cardinals in our time are no longer the princes of the church, but its servants and those of the people of God.”

It was a grand occasion, as solemn and opulent as a coronation, cosmopolitan and colorful, full of pageantry, majesty and ritual, during which Pope Francis elevated 21 men to the College of Cardinals. But despite the huge crowd of observers, it was also an intimate experience.

As at a graduation, the pope calls out the names of new cardinals one by one as each steps forward, in billowing scarlet silk garments, to kneel before him.

With both hands, the pope himself then places a neon-red zucchetto on the cardinal’s head, and on top of it a biretta, the cardinals’ square red cap. In Rome’s blistering heat, one new cardinal’s biretta slid down the back of his head almost to his neck.

Cardinal Pizzaballa, a native of Bergamo, Italy, who has lived and worked in Jerusalem for 33 years, secured the biretta atop his head, smiling at Pope Francis, who warmly congratulated him.

As at a wedding, the protagonists arrive as the people they have always been and leave transformed into something new. Rising from the pope’s embrace, the new cardinals walked across the stage—not back to the seats they occupied before, but to the places reserved for the entire College of Cardinals on the other side of the podium.

When Cardinal Mulla’s name was called, a roar went up from the South Sudanese delegation, with many members rising to clap and cheer. When the name of Hong Kong’s Stephen Sau-yan Chow was read—the city’s fourth cardinal—a group of Chinese nuns near the front of the crowd rose to recognize him, smiles as wide as the sky.

For the Palestinians and the Israelis, warm applause and a hushed sense of wonder accompanied the announcement of Cardinal Pizzaballa’s name.

It was a grand occasion, as solemn and opulent as a coronation, cosmopolitan and colorful, full of pageantry, majesty and ritual, during which Pope Francis elevated 21 men to the College of Cardinals.

“The feeling that gripped many of us was ‘finally,’” said Marie-Armelle Beaulieu, editor in chief of Terre Sainte magazine, who is close to the cardinal, one of about 500 friends and supporters from the region to attend the elevation of the world’s first cardinal of Jerusalem.

“Finally Jerusalem finds its place in the heart of the Catholic Church. Jerusalem finds its voice.” The challenge, she said, is not merely that of defending beleaguered Holy Land Christians, but “a question of putting the whole church back in a certain direction of travel: Returning the flock to the fold.”

Referring to Jerusalem’s perhaps-overlooked position as the Mother Church, she noted that Christianity was born in Jerusalem, not in Rome. “It was to Jerusalem that Jesus came on pilgrimage from Nazareth as an observant Jew; it was there that he died and rose again for the salvation of the world. Without Jerusalem, there is no church anywhere,” Ms. Beaulieu said.

“I think that because Jerusalem is Jerusalem for Christians, but also Jews and Muslims, [Cardinal] Pizzaballa will challenge us to carry out its mission for the world, to be light to the nations.”

Perhaps in a sign of his recognition that Jerusalem is a shared sanctified space, Cardinal Pizzaballa, alone among the cardinals, veered away from the others after he was elevated, walking to shake hands with Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, who was on seated among other dignitaries.

The Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Raphael Shutz, said that Cardinal Pizzaballa’s new status makes plain “Pope Francis’ recognition of the centrality of the Holy Land and specifically of Jerusalem for the Catholic faithful.”

“Finally Jerusalem finds its place in the heart of the Catholic Church. Jerusalem finds its voice.”

Israel, he told America, remains “committed to one of the fundamental tenets of pluralism: freedom of religion and freedom of worship for all religions.”

The audience attending the consistory was a pageant of humanity. Nuns arm-in-arm, in an astonishing array of habits; laypeople dressed in everything from shorts and Bikenstock sandals to shimmering ball gowns and towering mantillas.

The Polish women in attendance seemed mostly to wear black, but the gentlemen accompanying them wore cream wool outfits with bright red trim—one of them cradling, on a chain hanging from his neck, a symbol of the early church, a shiny silver rooster the size of a dinner plate.

Dozens of knights and dames of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher were notable in white capes adorned with the regalia of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. A group of Austrian men arrived at one of many ancient water fountains on the square in narrow gray-blue suits adorned with exotic furs.

While the Jerusalemites in Rome felt the frisson of witnessing history in the making, Cardinal Pizzaballa himself seemed lighthearted and focused on his mission.

In his first Mass as cardinal, delivered at the packed Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in downtown Rome, with bewildered tourists stumbling through and a spirited crowd cheering his name when he was introduced in Arabic, he acknowledged the flood of congratulations he had received from all quarters and all sects of his diocese. “Cardinals in our time are no longer the princes of the church,” he said, “but its servants and those of the people of God.”

The Latin Patriarchate he heads, “which has surprisingly become a cardinal’s see,” will live out its vocation and its mission with an open heart, he said. In a homily centered around the figure of Peter the Apostle, which was delivered in Italian and translated into Arabic, Cardinal Pizzaballa noted a temptation to view the diverse population of the Holy Land “with the gaze of Peter before he met Christ’s gaze—that is, with a gaze that is fearful and perhaps, for that very reason, aggressive and violent, strong.”

Political, cultural and social institutions—even the church—fighting for survival, he said, can choose the path of vindication and conflict. But Christians, he said, “must be different because we are called to choose every day to be disciples of Christ.”

“The Christian difference,” he said, “lies in our choices of reconciliation, of dialogue, of service, of closeness, of peace. For us, the other is not a rival, he is a brother. For us, Christian identity is not a bulwark to be defended, but a hospitable home and an open door to the mystery of God and man where all are welcome. We, with Christ, are for all.”

For Cardinal Pizzaballa, who concelebrated Mass alongside Pope Francis and the other newly-made cardinals on Oct. 4, the celebration of his new role was just beginning. Following a brief return to Jerusalem, his schedule until November will be packed with observances and festivities in Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus, where his flock has never before been able to welcome a cardinal of their own.

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