Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Making of The Cardinal, 2014

Over the years, this day's traditional open here has been this...

...yet all of a sudden, it starts differently now – and not as any movie, but as reality:

Indeed, that's Nicaragua's Cardinal-designate Leopoldo Brenes leaving Managua for Rome on Tuesday.

He's not alone in that spirit, either... and in case it wasn't sufficiently resonant by this point, precisely none of this is an accident.

In the days following the unprecedented election of an American Pope, the choice's explanation of the name he picked ricocheted in the church and beyond alike....
Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!
Some months later, in a speech to the Nuncios, another key indicator....
In the delicate task of carrying out [the preparation of] episcopal appointments, be careful that the candidates are pastors close to the people: this is the first criterion. Pastors close to the people. He is a great theologian, has a learned mind? Let him go to university where he will do such great good! Pastors! We need them! May they be fathers and brothers, may they be gentle, patient and merciful; may they love poverty, interior poverty, as freedom for the Lord, and exterior poverty, as well as simplicity and a modest lifestyle; may they not have the mindset of “princes”.
And then, just last month, to his first class of cardinals themselves....
The cardinalate does not imply promotion; it is neither an honour nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts. And, although this may appear paradoxical, the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant. Therefore I ask you, please, to receive this designation with a simple and humble heart. And, while you must do so with pleasure and joy, ensure that this sentiment is far from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.
Far from the splendid saunter of days gone by, the watered-silk crown of a career spent in the "engine room" of the Barque of Peter, to a degree unseen in recent times, a new breed has arrived in Rome to take its places in the august "Senate" of the Popes.

From the Philippines, there's Orlando Quevedo – just the fifth Oblate of Mary Immaculate to be elevated in the missionary order's two centuries of existence. Called from the majority-Muslim island of Mindanao and revered on all sides there as a figure of peace and reconciliation, his cathedral was once bombed while he celebrated Mass in it, and was last seen before this week seeking technical assistance in an airport cellphone shop. On another front, the rise of the far-flung Filipino incarnates one of this pontificate's early, hidden truths: that the internal vision and focus of Team Francis is far less invested in the temporal battles of US Catholicism's polarized, ever-shrinking Anglo minority than in bolstering a vibrant, growing, unified, oft-persecuted Asian Church, whose decades-long struggle for affirmation in presenting and living an inculturated vision of the faith has reached the hour of its fulfillment.

From the outer Caribbean, there's Kelvin Felix – the first-ever cardinal for the chain's furthest, smaller islands. Now retired as St Lucia's top hierarch, yet happily restored to life as a "country pastor" on his native Dominica, he "miraculously" escaped death in 2006 when a man in the street attempted to slash his throat.

From the hill-country of Perugia, Italy's lone diocesan red hat has fallen to Gualtiero Bassetti – a figure happily nestled in the shadow of the home-turf's "Great Eight," who admitted to having "almost fainted" on learning that he'd become his town's first shepherd in scarlet since the mid-19th century, all while the traditional nominees in Venice and Turin were left in the dust.

From Quebec, amid a shutout of US prelates for the first time in 35 years, this round's closest thing to a Stateside pick is a lumberjack's son raised in New Hampshire, who worked for a time as a graphic designer before learning how to pastor on being dropped into a poor parish in the Colombian countryside which spread across "72 villages and 13 towns."

And from Haiti, the hemisphere's poorest country, still reeling from a cataclysmic 2010 earthquake, comes the youngest of them all – Chibly Langlois, archbishop of neither Port-au-Prince or Jacmel (at least, not yet); just a simple suffragan, but at all of 54, the polyglot president of a bench overseeing what's widely viewed as the country's most reliable and competent institution as the rebuilding continues... and now, the first of his own ever to be a "prince of the church." (For purposes of context, while Catholics comprise at least 80 percent of Haiti's population, 210 years since the half-island's independence, its people elected a priest as the country's president decades before they were given a home-grown cardinal.)

The stories are striking across the board, but two others stand out.

After decades in obscurity, sought out only by the most devoted admirers of the "Good Pope" and his legacy, 50 years since the death of John XXIII, the hat finally goes today to Papa Roncalli's beloved secretary, Loris Capovilla – the oldest figure ever to join the College, and at the dawn of his 100th year, experiencing a sudden twin capstone of his life's work given the new honor and this April's canonization of his boss. (Due to his advanced age, Capovilla won't be present for the rites; according to one Italian report, an empty chair draped in red will be placed among the new cardinals in his honor. He's set to receive his biretta and ring next week from a papal legate at Blessed John's boyhood parish in Sotto il Monte, where he's lived since retiring from Rome.)

In today's Vatican, meanwhile, the sign of the times is subtler – and for many, not as sweet... but still no less significant. After 33 years of one German's dominance in matters of the Doctrine of the Faith, today sees another of Joseph Ratzinger's countrymen take his seat as the cardinal-prefect of the "Holy Office." Even so, a continuity argument would be a challenge to make – despite being reconfirmed in his post, Gerhard Müller has already been eclipsed. Once ranked atop the Curial orbit as "La Suprema," a dicastery technically headed by the Pope, this Consistory finds the CDF taking an inferior place to the power-center of the new pontificate, as the Secretary of a newly-emboldened Synod trumps the "Grand Inquisitor" in seniority and standing, upending an order of rank that dates to the 16th century.

And so, as the new Rule of Francis reaches a year in effect, is it clear yet?

Whatever the case, the whole scene speaks to one of Bergoglio's favorite words, arguably his ministry's governing concept: on the feast of the Chair of Peter, this "Pope's Day," the peripheries have come home to roo – er, to be elevated, and now to take their overdue part in the governance of the universal church.

Reform of structures, trappings, the consequences of teachings or templates of evangelization will take time – and, lest anybody forgot, what one Supreme Pontiff does, another can just as quickly undo.

At least, for the most part. However much he might wish, see, no Pope can unmake a cardinal – if this one could, odds are the College would be looking a bit different by this stage.

Whatever happens from here, then, this Saturday brings the most concrete reinforcement of something many have felt since last March 13th: Today, change comes to the Vatican.

That said, old habits die hard, so as the new cardinals make their way around the scarlet-clad ranks to exchange the sign of peace with their new peers, the Sistine Choir will once again raise the traditional hymn, "Constitues eos principes super omnem terram" – that is, "You shall make them princes over all the earth."