In February Pope Francis installed 20 new cardinals. In keeping with the pope’s interest in moving the church “to the peripheries,” these new cardinals hail from all over the world, many from places we rarely hear mentioned in the U.S. press. Most are pastors who have worked with populations on the margins—migrants, religious or cultural minorities, displaced peoples, indigenous groups, the economically disadvantaged or people in danger.
But they share other experiences that have gone less reported as well, experiences that may have made them attractive to Pope Francis. Ten have been president or vice president of their bishops’ conferences, another president of a conference of religious orders; and almost all served in these roles at the same time that Pope Francis, then Cardinal Bergoglio, was head of the Argentine bishops’ conference.
They are men who can be expected to bring new, perhaps surprising perspectives to the meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the family next October in Rome. Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli, 75, hails from the Archdiocese of Ancona-Osimo, a central Italian land of rolling hills, vineyards and sandy beaches on the Adriatic Sea. He told America that he hopes, following the synod, the church will appreciate that “every person is a gift from God, no matter their sexual inclinations. Heterosexuals, gays, everybody has a lot to offer. We have to rediscover this in the Gospel and in our everyday mission.”
Likewise, Cardinal Alberto Suárez Inda, 75 (Morelia, Mexico), who has spent decades in southwest Mexico working for peace and reconciliation amid the violence of drug cartels, government forces and private militias, calls for “a meeting that is not self-enclosed, but where the pastors really carry with them the sensus fidelium, the sense that the Holy Spirit gives the church to respond to the serious pastoral problems—while being faithful to the doctrine, sensitive to the needs that real families live with.”
As much as Pope Francis’ choices have been interpreted as emphasizing the “globalness” of the church, the selections clearly also mean to be apostolic, to accomplish immediate good. They draw world attention to crises like the violence in Mexico, the plight of migrants in Europe, the threat that climate change poses to the peoples of the Pacific, the horror of human trafficking in Africa and Asia.
So it is in Vietnam, where the church has long struggled to build trust with the Vietnamese government; in Myanmar, where Cardinal Charles Bo has been very involved in efforts to protect Muslim minorities from persecution; and in Mexico, which the Vatican pointed out in January is the most dangerous place in the world to be a priest. Being made cardinal will help these men gain a hearing (and perhaps even protect them).
In the month prior to their installation, America reached out to the new cardinals for their thoughts on the church today. Seventeen found the time in the hectic weeks before their installation to respond. The full text of their responses can be found on America Media’s website (www.americamagazine.org); but some selections follow below. They offer a glimpse of the minds and hearts of these new church leaders.
On Being Named Cardinal
Cardinal Menichelli: “I was writing the homily for the next Mass and I heard noise from the outside, like children screaming.... The noise came from the nuns that work at my house. They had received the news Pope Francis made me a cardinal and they came to tell me, shouting: ‘The Pope named you a cardinal!’
“‘Really?’ I was very surprised. Then I told them: ‘Okay! Now you better go and cook lunch!’”
Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, 68 (Agrigento, Sicily): “I understood this is a kind of award for the land of Agrigento and the people of Lampedusa Island, where the migrants reach Europe from Africa. Pope Francis chose Lampedusa as his first trip outside Rome. He came here and he said that in this land poverty and providence can walk together.... I’m happy for these people of Agrigento and Lampedusa, as it recognizes their efforts.”
Cardinal Luigi De Magistris, 88 (retired head of the Apostolic Pentitentiary): “I’m honored to be named cardinal. My whole life was about serving the church, and I tried to do my best, like many others who aren’t now cardinals but loved the church like me or more. And I received so much love and so many spiritual and moral gifts. I can’t thank God enough.”
Hopes for the Church Today
Cardinal John Dew, 66 (Wellington, New Zealand): “That it be seen to be involved in the lives of those who are struggling for one reason or another; that the church be seen to be offering hope and support.”
Cardinal Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, 76 (Hanoi, Vietnam): “I hope the church reflects the face of God who is meek, goodness, full of mercy through our mission of love and service.”
Cardinal Arlindo Gomes Furtado, 65 (Santiago de Capo Verde, Cape Verde): “I hope that the church fights against all forms of violence and destruction of human dignity, as Pope John Paul II called for during his visit to Cape Verde 25 years ago.”
Cardinal Montenegro: “I want the church to learn from people who have nothing, to walk with those who are miserable. I was born in a poor family; I had very difficult times. But I learned a lot. Without this, the church is going nowhere.”
Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, C.M., 66 (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia): “My hope for the church is that it continues to become credible not only to its flock and those it serves, but also to the whole world which is expecting so much from the Catholic Church.”
Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi, 53 (Tonga): “That the church becomes a humble church, but filled with the fire of the Spirit.... A church whose members are moved with passion to share and spread the good news of their faith-filled experiences in their daily lives, so that others would realize their own.”
A Key Message From the Church
Cardinal Nhon: “Good News of peace, full of joy and hope.”
Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán, O.A.R., 70 (David, Panama): “We know that the world hopes and asks for the presence and the word of the church on many cultural, economic, social, political and environmental issues. And we cannot fail, but...our fundamental word and our key witness is to make present the good news: God loves us.”
Cardinal Dew: “I have no doubt that the church should be offering a message of hope to those who struggle with life.”
Cardinal Dominique François Mamberti, 62 (head of the Apostolic Signatura): “The church in her pastors, of course, but most especially in the millions and millions of everyday Catholics—parents, workers, professionals, students, the young and the old—must show forth in the world that holiness and fidelity to the Gospel is possible.”
Cardinal Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, 72 (Valladolid, Spain): “The Gospel must be spread by the presence and the signs offered by Christians. So the embrace of the leper in the story of St. Francis of Assisi finds a version in our days in the embrace of Pope Francis with a man who had a skin disease that disfigured his face. This hug is a parable of what the church should offer today.”
Cardinal José de Jesús Pimiento Rodríguez, 96 (retired Archbishop of Manizales, Colombia): “To insist that the Gospel is not an ideology or a philosophy, but a way of life.”
What Have They Learned?
Cardinal Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhoet, S.D.B., 55 (Montevideo, Uruguay): “That the most important things are simple. That the church is called to be transparent and close.”
Cardinal Lacunza: “About God, to look to him as Father. It is the great lesson of simple and humble people: confide in him, cling to him.
“About the church: that in her we have room for everyone and we all have something to contribute. Also here the simple and humble teach us to bring everything we are and have.”
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, S.D.B., 66 (Yangon, Myanmar): “God is never tired of forgiving us and accepting us.”
Cardinal Menichelli: “We are all brothers; we have one Father. Races and colors are visible to our eyes, but to be human is something invisible, and this is what we have to find in one another, like a family. “
Cardinal Montenegro: “That a Christian person can’t stay on a side of the road watching others walking; the Christian person has to walk with others. We have to fight.”
Images of Encouragement
Cardinal Mafi: “In the early days of my life, during my school years, I was always moved whenever I recalled the fact that Jesus had ‘dared’ to call his followers ‘his friends.” This image of a ‘friend’ seemed to have remained with me and defined my own spirituality in many ways.”
Cardinal Manuel José Macário do Nascimento Clemente, 66 (Lisbon, Portugal): “Jesus, on a boat, facing a windstorm, peaceful and able to continue through that challenge.”
Cardinal Suárez: “The image of God that the first books of the Bible give us, especially Exodus and Deuteronomy: a God who cares and is concerned for his people, who hears the cry of his people. He is a father who educates and takes the hand of the little one through the walk across the desert, protecting them so that their feet do not swell nor their clothes wear away.”
Cardinal Júlio Duarte Langa, 87 (retired Bishop of Xai-Xai, Mozambique): “I think that all Scripture, and particularly the Son, shows us the Father and good shepherd who cares for his flock and asks mercy especially for the lost sheep. He supports and encourages me in my vocation, as does the young Carmelite Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who discovered the immensity of God’s love.”
Hopes for the Synod
Cardinal Blázquez: “I want the church to be like an alarm clock that allows humanity to discover or rediscover the fundamental meaning of marriage and the family.”
Cardinal Sturla: “My hope is that the fathers of the synod listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and that this be their only goal.”
Cardinal Clemente: “That the expected focus on challenging situations, which will increase for sure, will not overshadow the beauty and truth of the Christian proposal.”
Cardinal Bo: “We do not hope that the synod would change the doctrines nor the fundamental principles of the church. But I do hope that there will be more pastoral and intensive care for families, a deeper sympathetic pastoral approach toward families, especially those in irregular unions.”
Cardinal Furtado: “At the end of the many debates that certainly will be, it is my hope that Mother Church heads to her sons and daughters living with some sort of failure in life as spouses and as family, with optimism, with practical incentives and welcoming gestures to enable these members to feel included in the life and activity of the church—in fact to feel the church is a big family and a welcoming home. I believe that this is in fact the greatest pastoral challenge we must face.”