“Enough with the jokes,” then-Archbishop Juan José Omella Omella of Barcelona said when he got the call.
But it wasn’t a joke: A friend was calling him from St. Peter’s Square to tell him that Pope Francis had just announced his name among the five men who were to become cardinals at a consistory which was held June 28.
After receiving the announcement, Omella continued with his plans for the day, including visiting prisoners. He met with journalists the next morning.
“Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city where people from all over the world go,” he told journalists in Rome this week when asked what it means to serve from the peripheries in his city. “You only have to be at the plaza where the door of the cathedral of Barcelona is for a moment to see that there they speak all the languages, and all races and all cultures pass. Or go to the Sagrada Familia to see the amount of people who come everyday.”
“(T)he Church, after the Council, wants to be the Samaritan Church that accompanies the people of this world and picking up those who suffer, those who don’t have a sense of life, who are in complicated situations such as war,” he said. “I think that the Church must be present in these worlds, and to make them understand that the Pope, [in] drawing and creating cardinals from these areas, [says it’s important that] the Church is present in these areas.”
Cardinal Omella was born in the small town of Cretas in a Catalan-speaking region of Aragon in 1946. In his priestly formation, he studied in Belgium as well as Jerusalem. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Zaragoza in 1970, at the age of 24. He served for a year as a missionary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In 1996, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Zaragoza, and in 1999 made Bishop of Barbastro-Monzón. He was appointed Bishop of Calahorra y La Calzada-Logroño in 2004. In 2015, Pope Francis appointed him Archbishop of Barcelona.
Since his episcopal consecration, Cardinal Omella has been a member of the Spanish bishops’ social-pastoral commission.
Among the five men elevated at Wednesday’s consistory, Cardinal Omella, 71, stands out in that his selection for the College of Cardinals is in no way unprecedented, whereas Francis’ other choices had at least one unique aspect about their appointment. Cardinal Omella comes from a traditional cardinalate see – his three predecessors were also cardinals. His immediate predecessor, Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach, aged out of the electorate when he turned 80 in April.
“This isn’t about attaining great honors,” Omella told Vatican Radio May 22. “I’m not about making a career, but service.”
The Church has to “unite institutions for the common good, so that no one feels cast aside,” he said. “I believe that it is a job we must do at all levels.”
By Joe Slama