Monday, January 13, 2014

Pope to New Cardinals: "Don't Let the Hat Go To Your Head"

On his own call to the College in 2001, Jorge Bergoglio was typically circumspect – so the story goes in Buenos Aires, the cardinal-designate didn't order a new set of scarlet for himself, but just had the robes of his rotund predecessor, the late Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, taken in to fit him. And in a move he'd repeat on his election as Pope, the future Francis – who continued to ride the city buses, cook his meals and do his own laundry – likewise nixed a Consistory pilgrimage, urging anyone who sought to make the trip to donate whatever they would've spent to the poor.

Over time, the rites creating new cardinals and the week surrounding it have come to be known as the "Scarlet Bowl" for a reason – outside a Conclave (or, quite possibly, maybe even more than one), no Vatican event draws so much of the global church's leadership caste to Rome: all the cardinals, of course, along with the customary throngs of senior clergy, prominent laity, media, lobbyists and hangers-on of all sorts. Accordingly, beyond the central rites themselves, the week is a frenzied blur of receptions, dinners and other meetings that, candidly, often don't just border on the deluxe.

At least, that's been the case until now. In a "personal letter" to his 19 picks that was made public by the Holy See this morning, Francis urged the cardinals-designate to an "evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty" in their acceptance of the red hat as they began their preparations for the 22 February ceremonies.

Time will tell how the call's been heeded by the new intake and the rest of the scene. For now, here's the English rendering of the message, dated yesterday....

Dear brother,

On the day that your designation as part of the College of Cardinals is made public, I wish to send you a cordial greeting along with the guarantee of my closeness and prayer. It is my hope that, joined with the Church of Rome and “clothed in the virtues and sentiments of the Lord Jesus,” you may help me with fraternal efficacy in my service to the Universal Church.

The cardinalship 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.

Until we meet, then, on 20 February, when our two days of reflection on the family commence. I remain at your disposal and ask you, please, to pray for me and to ask for prayers on my behalf.

May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin protect you.
Speaking of the logistics, one aspect of the ceremonies that's repeatedly proven problematic over recent rounds will again bear watching – all the more this time as it's bound to get worse with Papa Francesco.

From 1998 until the intake of November 2007, each Consistory and following day's Mass were held outside in the Square to accommodate the tens of thousands of pilgrims who came to cheer on their hometown cardinals. Since B16 moved the rites inside St Peter's, however, the change of venue has made for chaos and disappointment as many travelers, despite being queued up before dawn, have consistently not been able to make it inside due to over-ticketing of the sections in the 10,000-seat basilica. At both the Consistories of 2007 and 2010, even relatives of new cardinals (bearing the premium tickets reserved for family and close friends) were among those stuck outside.

While the rites are already a big draw all their own, the prospect of seeing Francis will arguably add to the lure of making the trip for many in the designates' dioceses. With a class of this size, however, avoiding another edition of shut-out pilgrims should make for an even more daunting exercise.

On another front, meanwhile, the evening after the Consistory itself has long brought an event that's much cherished both by natives and visitors alike. To symbolize the cardinals' role as "princes" of the church given their particular bond with the Pope, the Apostolic Palace is traditionally opened to the public for the only time and gets swarmed (above) as the new crop spread out across the building's sumptuous state rooms to receive "courtesy visits" marking their elevations.

Given the spirit of today's letter – and, indeed, that Francis has effectively renounced the building – one can't help but wonder if that custom goes by the wayside.