by Elise Harris
On Saturday Pope Francis handed a red hat to 17 new cardinals, warning them against the danger of falling into polemics and animosity and encouraging them to be close to their people, imitating God’s mercy.
“Ours is an age of grave global problems and issues. We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are burgeoning and considered the only way to resolve conflicts,” the Pope said Nov. 19.
Using the current global migration crisis as an example, he noted how easy it is to view those considered to be “strangers” to be seen as a threat, and to “take on the status of an enemy.”
Whether it’s because they have different customs, different colored skin, a different language, a lower social class or even because they have a different faith, these people are often marginalized and “without our realizing it, this way of thinking becomes part of the way we live and act.”
“Everything and everyone then begins to savor of animosity. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence,” Pope Francis said, noting that this has an especially hard impact on the defenseless “because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference!”
“How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us,” he said, stressing that this attitude also infiltrates the Church in her communities, meetings and even priests.
“The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting,” the Pope said, stressing to the cardinals that “we are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts.”
Should this happen, it would be a direct contradiction of “the richness and universality of the Church,” which can be tangibly felt within in the College of Cardinals.
“We come from distant lands; we have different traditions, skin color, languages and social backgrounds; we think differently and we celebrate our faith in a variety of rites,” Francis said, adding that “none of this makes us enemies; instead, it is one of our greatest riches.”
Pope Francis spoke to 16 of the 17 bishops and priests he tapped to get a red hat last month, the only absentee being Bishop Sebastian Koto Khoarai, O.M.I, Emeritus of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho, for health reasons.
Coming from 11 nations and 5 continents, the new cardinals represent the Pope’s vision of having a broader, more universal representation of the Church.
In addition to having three Americans – Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis and Bishop Kevin Farrell, prefect of the new Congregation for Laity, Family and Life – the appointees include many from small countries or islands that have never before had a cardinal, as well as from countries which present particular challenges in terms of pastoral outreach, such as those stricken with violence or persecution.
In his homily, Francis pointed to the day’s Gospel from Luke, in which Jesus tells his disciples to “set out” and go to the plains to meet the people, rather than staying on top of the mountain.
“The Lord thus shows the Apostles, and ourselves, that the true heights are reached on the plain, while the plain reminds us that the heights are found in a gaze and above all in a call: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” he said.
He then pointed to four “exhortations” which he said mold the vocation of the apostles “through real, everyday situation,” which he named as to “love, do good, bless and pray.”
These “are four things we can easily do for our friends and for those more or less close to us” or that we like, he said, but noted they are much more difficult to do for our enemies.
When we think of our enemies or those whom we don’t like, our first reaction is often “to dismiss, discredit or curse them,” he said, noting how we frequently “try to demonize them, so as to have a sacred justification for dismissing them.”
“But Jesus tells us to do exactly the opposite with our enemies, those who hate us, those who curse us or slander us. We are to love them, to do good to them, to bless them and to pray for them.”
Pope Francis then turned to what he said are “the hallmarks” of Jesus’ message, where his “power and secret” are hidden.
The first aspect of this “secret” is that “my enemy is someone I must love,” he said, explaining that “in God’s heart there are no enemies. God only has sons and daughters.”
“We are the ones who raise walls, build barriers and label people. God has sons and daughters, precisely so that no one will be turned away…No matter how sullied our hands may be, God cannot be stopped from placing in those hands the Life he wishes to bestow on us.”
The Pope concluded his homily by pointing to Jesus continues to invite us “to spend our lives sustaining our people in hope, so that they can be signs of reconciliation.”
“As the Church, we are constantly being asked to open our eyes to see the wounds of so many of our brothers and sisters deprived of their dignity,” he said and urged the cardinals to “cherish in your own heart” the summons to be “merciful like the Father.”
After the consistory, Pope Francis and the new cardinals took two buses and stopped by the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monestary to pay a visit to retired Pope Benedict XVI, who was not present at the ceremony.
In addition to the three American cardinals elevated during the consistory, others of voting age include: Archbishop Mario Zenari, who is and will remain apostolic nuncio to the “beloved and martyred” Syria; Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui; Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid; Archbishop Sergio da Rocha of Brazil; Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dakha, Bangladesh; Archbishop Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo of Merida, Venezuela; Archbishop Joseph de Kesel of Malines Brussels; Bishop Maurice Piat of Port-Louis, Mauritius Island; Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla, Mexico and Archbishop John Ribat of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
In addition to the 13 new electoral cardinals, Francis has nominated four others who are of non-voting age due to their notable service to the Church: Anthony Soter Fernandez, Archbishop Emeritus of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Renato Corti, Archbishop Emeritus of Novara and Sebastian Koto Khoarai, O.M.I, Bishop Emeritus of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho.
Additionally, he nominated Fr Ernest Simoni, an Albanian priest from the diocese of Shkodra, whose testimony of the persecution of the Albanian Church under the communist regime the Pope cried at during his 2014 daytrip to the country.
The consistory will be the third of Pope Francis’ pontificate, the most recent of which took place last year on Valentine’s Day. With the 17 new cardinal-elects included, the number of voting cardinals comes to 121, and the number of non-voters to 107, for a grand total of 228.