One by one 11 senior churchmen knelt before Pope Francis to receive their red hats, a cardinal’s ring and a scroll formally declaring their new status and assigning them a “titular” church in Rome.
But with the consistory on 28th November occurring during the Covid-19 pandemic, Pope Francis actually created 13 new cardinals.
Cardinals Jose F. Advincula of Capiz, Philippines, and Cornelius Sim, apostolic vicar of Brunei, did not attend the consistory because of Covid-19 travel restrictions; however, they are officially cardinals and will receive their birettas and rings at a later date, the Vatican said.
In his homily at the prayer service, Pope Francis told the new cardinals that “the scarlet of a cardinal’s robes, which is the colour of blood, can, for a worldly spirit, become the colour of a secular ’eminence,'” the traditional title of respect for a cardinal.
If that happens, he said, “you will no longer be a pastor close to your people. You will think of yourself only as ‘His Eminence.’ If you feel that, you are off the path.”
For the cardinals, the pope said, the red must symbolise a wholehearted following of Jesus, who willingly gave his life on the cross to save humanity.
The Gospel reading at the service, Mark 10:32-45, included the account of James and John asking Jesus for special honours. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left,” they said. But Jesus reproaches them.
“We, too, pope and cardinals, must always see ourselves reflected in this word of truth,” Pope Francis said. “It is a sharpened sword; it cuts, it proves painful, but it also heals, liberates and converts us.”
According to canon law, cardinals are created when their names are made public “in the presence of the College of Cardinals.” While many Rome-based cardinals attended the consistory, more members of the college were “present” online.
The pandemic also meant the gathering was unusually small; each cardinal was accompanied by a priest-secretary and could invite a handful of guests, so there were only about 100 people in the congregation at the Altar of the Chair in St Peter’s Basilica.
Also missing were the “courtesy visits,” a reception lasting several hours in the early evening when the general public was invited into the Vatican to greet the new cardinals.
In addition to some Rome-based cardinals, the congregation at the consistory included the pastors or rectors of the 13 Rome churches to which the new cardinals were associated. Cardinals are given a “titular” church in Rome, formally making them members of the Rome diocesan clergy, which is what the Church’s first cardinals were.
In fact, the formula for the creation of cardinals, recited in Latin by Pope Francis, says, “It chiefly concerns the church of Rome, but it also affects the entire ecclesial community: We will call certain of our brethren to enter the College of Cardinals, so that they may be united to the Chair of Peter by a closer bond to our apostolic ministry.”
Mexican Cardinal Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, retired bishop of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico, told Vatican News on 27th November that the new cardinals are called to reconfirm their commitment to making Christ the centre of their lives and “to collaborate with the pope in his ministry as bishop of Rome, and so we are assigned a parish in this city, as a sign of communion between that community and the one who presides over this local church, which is the pope.”
Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, was the first mentioned by the pope on 25th October when he announced he was creating new cardinals. As such, it fell to Cardinal Grech to address the pope on behalf of the new cardinals.
“Convoked in consistory at such a serious time for all humanity because of the pandemic, we want to turn our thoughts to all our brothers and sisters enduring hardship,” the cardinal said. He prayed that people would react to the pandemic as an “opportunity to rethink our lifestyles, our relationships, the organisation of our societies and, especially, the meaning of our lives.”
Cardinal Grech also led the others in the recitation of the Creed and of an oath of fidelity and obedience to Christ and his Church and to Pope Francis and his successors.
The new cardinals came from eight countries: Italy, Malta, the United States, Brunei, the Philippines, Mexico, Rwanda and Chile.
The new cardinals coming from outside Europe were tested for Covid-19 before flying to Rome and again upon arrival. Even after testing negative, they were required to quarantine for 10 days and were tested again immediately before the consistory.
With the consistory the College of Cardinals now has 229 members, 128 of whom are under the age of 80 and eligible to enter a conclave to elect a new pope. Pope Francis has given the red hat to 57 per cent of electors.
Picture: Pope Francis arrives to lead a consistory for the creation of 13 new cardinals in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 28th November 2020. (CNS photo/Vatican Media).