Sunday, October 25, 2020

Red Hats... Black History – Because He Can, The Pope Packs His "Senate"

First it was coming, then it wasn't....

But, finally, it's here – finally, in more ways than one.

At the close of today's noontime Angelus, the Pope announced his seventh intake of new cardinals – 13 in all; nine younger than 80 and thus eligible to enter a Conclave – who'll receive the red hat and cruciform ring on Saturday, 28 November, the eve of the First Sunday of Advent.

Here, the names of the cardinals-designate, listed in the strict order of precedence that dictates their seniority in the papal "Senate" – first, the electors:

–Bishop Mario Grech, 63, Secretary-General of the Synod for Bishops (Maltese);
–Bishop Marcelo Semeraro, 72, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (Italian);
–Archbishop Antoine Kambanda, 62, of Kigali (Rwanda);
–Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory, 72, of Washington DC;
–Archbishop José Advincula, 68, of Capiz (Philippines);
–Archbishop Celestino Aós Braco OFM Cap., 75, of Santiago de Chile;
–Bishop Cornelius Sim, 69, vicar-apostolic of Brunei;
–Archbishop Paolo Lojudice, 56, of Siena (Italy);
–Fr Mauro Gambetti OFM Conv., 55, custodian of the Convent of Assisi (Italian)

...and alongside them, the four picks older than 80, given the red hat for "lifetime achievement": 

–Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, 80, emeritus of San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico);
–Archbishop Silvano Tomasi CS, 80, retired Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN Offices in Geneva;
–Fr Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap., 86, preacher of the Papal Household 
–Msgr Enrico Feroci, parish priest of Rome, 80, pastor of Our Lady of Divine Love at Castel di Leva

The Holy See has provided biographical notes on each of the designates.
With today's picks, the College will have 128 voting cardinals once the Consistory is held – eight over the customary limit set by St Paul VI in 1975, but nowhere near the 135 to which the group was ballooned by John Paul II in 2001, when he created 37 electors in one fell swoop.
Upon the new class' entrance, Francis will have chosen 73 voters in a hypothetical Conclave, comprising just shy of 60 percent of the total. 
For context, the Roman Pontiff is elected by a supermajority of two-thirds. Yet far more significantly, the electors don't merely choose the next Pope – one of them will be next the Pope.
In light of the ongoing travel restrictions due to the pandemic, it's worth noting that cardinals-designate need not be present at the Roman ceremonies to formally take their places in the College. Regardless of their whereabouts, the designees enjoy the title "Eminence" and the right to enter a Conclave upon the Pope's publication of the biglietto – literally, the "ticket" – listing their names, which currently takes place at the beginning of the Consistory itself. 
It remains to be seen whether, as in times past, Francis will need to send the scarlet 
birette and rings to at least some of the new cardinals for them to receive at home. While, today, the insignia would ostensibly be conferred on the pontiff's behalf by the local Nuncio or another nearby cardinal, in Catholic countries that privilege was historically carried out by the head of state. (Above right, the future St John XXIII – then-Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, the Nuncio to Paris – is seen receiving his biretta from the French President Vincent Auriol, a Socialist, on his elevation in 1953.)
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Before anything else, given Cantalamessa's invariable presence in his brown Capuchin habit – to say nothing of his penchant for controversy over four decades as the household preacher – the sight of Padre Raniero in cardinal red is going to give more than a few natives the vapors. On a related front, the friar's deluxe following among the Catholic Charismatic renewal is likewise set to make next month's rites the first "Scarlet Bowl" to feature en masse speaking in tongues among the moment's usual kaleidoscope of the church's universality.
And speaking of the church's Catholicity... here at home, this Sunday is nothing short of a watershed. 

Of course, the elevation of Wilton Gregory gives Stateside Catholicism its first African-American ever to don the red hat – indeed, the first US cardinal of non-European descent. 
For Francis, the call is legacy-defining. For the cardinal-designate, it's simply been a long time coming.
Appointed a bishop at 35 – the youngest possible age under canon law – the DC prelate (a favorite of the last three pontificates) now becomes the oldest American to be elevated to a Conclave seat since St Paul VI limited the electoral age to 80 in 1975. Having echoed the meteoric rise of his own mentor in many ways – among them, becoming the first Black president of the US bishops at all of 53 – while today's announcement has been gleefully received across all sorts of divides, if anything, it comes as an overdue recognition of a ministry that, by any standard, has been one of the landmark tenures in American Catholic history, one often saddled with equally historic and unique burdens.
To be sure, there is a poetic – and, even more, a Providential – timing to the news, coming amid a societal reckoning over systemic racism and the ties that bind the body politic. Yet while much of the wider world will make the mistake of conflating the man with the moment, anyone who's watched Gregory's ascent onto the national, then global stage over the last 30 years knows the extraordinary blend of skill, dignity, self-effacement and, yes, tolerance for pain that have paved the road to today, and how this elevation is the most merited of any these shores have seen in living memory.
Three decades ago, the walk began with his arrival in rural Southern Illinois, an early hotbed of abuse scandals, which saw him take the then unheard-of move to suspend one-sixth of the priests he inherited. Not long after, within six weeks of Gregory's election as USCCB chief in late 2001, the crisis' national eruption began in Boston, and despite the resistance of many of the young president's elders on the bench – let alone potent opposition in Rome – "one strike and you're out" didn't just become the church's buzzword, but national law. And now, just when he was beginning to coast toward retirement after 15 years leading Catholicism's emergence as the dominant religious bloc in the "Capital of the South" – seeing Atlanta's 69-county church more than double in size to 1.3 million members, usually featuring the nation's largest RCIA classes of adult converts (2,000 or more each year) – not only did another atomic-grade cleanup come calling, but one to be carried out in the hyper-polarized, omni-media glare of the nation's capital.
Far from the hurricane-like experience of the long, torrid summer of 2018, these days, nary a peep is heard out of Washington. And that's pretty much what was hoped on his arrival – as no shortage of the designate's confreres remarked upon his appointment, "Thank God it's him... and (even more) thank God it isn't me." 
Lest it sounded easy, accomplishing any of these was no mean feat. What's more, however, doing so while Black has required the churchman's equivalent of tackling it "Backwards and in heels." And all the while, from those early days in Belleville and the conference – as Atlanta received, then quickly lost, the first two African-American archbishops – the expectations grew, gradually yet widely, that Wilton would be "the one."
For any man, that can be a crushing weight to live with. But most of us can't imagine being the vessel of an aspiration that isn't your own, yet held by a community of 3.5 million – the US' Black Catholic population, itself larger than the entire Episcopal Church. 

By every account, the man has never sought the scarlet for himself. Yet if the day never came, there would still be the weight – of wondering whether the "wrong" thing was said or done somewhere along the way, of somehow letting down those for whom his red hat would've been perceived as their church's way of seeing them and speaking their name.
But we don't have to worry about that now. And on top of the grace of the news, knowing that we don't – that he doesn't – is a gift and a balm all its own.
For longer than most folks can remember, many have believed that, more than any other man in red, Wilton Gregory was born for it. Maybe now, he might begin to believe that. Either way, the decades of expectation placed upon Miss Etta Mae's son are behind him... and as Wilton Cardinal Gregory, he can finally be himself.

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National monument aside, today's class builds upon several of Francis' now well-burnished traits among his intakes: only two of the designates – Gregory and Aós (himself leading the Chilean church's sprawling post-scandal cleanup) – come from the customary "cardinalatial sees," with the bulk hailing yet again from "the peripheries," albeit in several senses of the word. 
Beyond the duo who'll be the first-ever cardinals from their respective countries (Rwanda's Kambanda and Brunei's native-born Sim), while technically a Curial cardinal in light of his new post, Grech – who recently gave a notable, extended reflection on the shape of a post-COVID church – becomes the first Maltese prelate with a Conclave vote in two centuries. 

In addition, Papa Bergoglio has continued his practice begun last time in elevating a simple priest – here, Gambetti (above), the superior of the Assisi complex containing the Basilica and tomb of St Francis – to an electoral seat. 
Given how the friar's role as custos (guardian) is subject to his Franciscan superiors, and the reality that cardinals answer only to the Pope, the 55 year-old is certain to receive a new assignment determined by the pontiff. (As now-Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ was already a Vatican official on being catapulted from priest-to-cardinal elector last year, a similar change of his day-job wasn't similarly needed.)
As none of the priests on today's list are Jesuits, Gambetti and the trio of 80-something designates will all be ordained bishops before the Consistory, in accord with the 1962 stipulation of John XXIII now inserted into the canons.