Pope Francis unexpectedly announced that on Wednesday, June 28, there would be a consistory during which he would create five new cardinals.
The Holy Father himself gave the explanation for this promotion: “Their origin from various parts of the world manifests the catholicity of the Church spread across the earth.” Francis announced this from the window of the pontifical apartments where he led the Sunday Regina Caeli.
Of course, the first observation that comes to mind is that, with these nominations, the pope remains faithful to his desire to create a Church that is less centered on Europe, but without completely disregarding Europe: three of the five “porporati” come from beyond the old continent’s borders. But it remains to be seen what the profiles of the five newcomers to the Sacred College say about this catholicity as Francis sees it.
For Francis, the Church is a society that must confront the challenge of reality: that of accepting in the 21st century her status as a religious minority. It is no coincidence that three of the new cardinals come from countries where Catholicism is an extreme minority: Sweden, Laos, and Mali. In this latter country, Christians only make up 2.4% of the 17 million inhabitants, 94% of whom are Muslim.
In an interview with La Repubblica in September 2016, when speaking of the future of the Catholic Church, did Francis not declare that “being a minority is actually a strength”? For Francis, the “catholicity” of the 21st century consists in this lucid effort the Church must make to recognize herself as a minority – both in number and in the echo of the Christian message in modern societies – but without giving up bearing witness to the ever-present strength of the Gospel.
Cardinals from Troubled Areas
Francis also clearly wished to highlight the regions of Christianity that illustrate the painful passion the Church is living through: by creating a bishop of Laos cardinal, Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, who is already 73 years old, the Holy Father wishes to pay homage to a country where Catholics are still the victims of daily persecutions, and where the clergy is doing everything in its power just to ensure the Church’s survival.
Likewise, by promoting to the rank of cardinal Bishop Jean Zerbo, the archbishop of Bamako, who is faced with the challenge of radical Islam, the pope is consecrating a prelate who did not hesitate to declare that “the Christians of Mali are going through a trial comparable to that of the disciples of the early centuries”.
Baptism of blood is not the only way for the Church to be persecuted: the silent war waged against the evangelical ideal by secularized society is another way. This can be seen in the promotion of Bishop Andres Arborelius: the 67-year-old Carmelite is bishop of Stockholm, in a Scandinavian world where Catholics represent less than 2% and where the presence of the Church is often seen as an “anomaly” by a society whose bywords are comfort and modernity. Nonetheless, this region of Christianity has not given in to discouragement and in the past few years, conversions from Lutheranism have multiplied. This is despite the false ecumenism which the bishop of Stockholm encourages.
Cardinal Named only to Promote an Agenda?
In Francis’ mind, Catholicity goes hand in hand with care for the destitute: this is surely the idea behind the nomination of Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador. Bishop Chavez is very closely connected with the figure of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980, and owes his vocation in part to this figurehead of the Church of the poor in Latin America. A collusion with progressivism and liberation theology is not far off.
With the nomination of Archbishop Juan José Omella, barely eighteen months after making him archbishop of Barcelona, Pope Francis is putting forward a pastor known for being close with the faithful and for having a profile similar to his own. Ordained a priest in 1970 for the diocese of Saragossa, he became an auxiliary bishop of the same diocese in 1996. He has been a member of the Congregation of Bishops for twenty years.
When all is said and done, the crossed portrait of the new cardinals is an echo of what Francis said to Fr. Spadaro, SJ, at the beginning of his pontificate: “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”
In this “hospital”, the Church accepts her status as a minority without deceiving herself – according to the pope – on any hypothetical return to a time of Christendom: “If the Christian is a legalist, or seeks restoration, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing,” he added in the same interview.
The Society of St. Pius X remains convinced that Tradition remains an anchor and more: it is the necessary light of the past without which “the field hospital” can only work blindly.