Much as the journey is the same, the scene today is rather different.
For one, no prelate in his right mind would be caught dead wearing the old Cappello Romano in these times…
…yet most of all, here we go again – another crop of new cardinalsdrawn mostly, like the Pope who made them, “from the edge of the world.”
In a shift from ancient practice, the Consistory to create five voting members of the papal “Senate” will take place in the afternoon – 4pm Rome time on this Wednesday’s vigil of Saints Peter and Paul. (The live video will appear here at the time, and the ritual booklet – with English translations – is already up.)
Among other benefits, the change of hour ends the routine early-morning havoc around the Vatican preceding a Scarlet Bowl, as the usual crush of far-flung pilgrims would start queuing up from 2 or 3am to ensure their spots in the Basilica. In any event, given the size of the crop – the smallest since Blessed Paul VI inducted four with his final class in 1977 (four decades ago this week) – the logistics are much more manageable than with the “mega-Consistories” elevating a dozen or more Porporati, which’ve been the usual case over recent decades.
That said, for the second time running, the entire College has not been summoned to Rome for this week’s doings, and the daylong consultation both Francis and Benedict XVI have usually held with the body likewise won’t take place again.
While no one should be surprised that the session’s absence has been ideologized in some quarters, in reality the rationale is the result of Francis’ procrastination. Unlike the pontiff’s first two classes – which were slated several months in advance – both last November’s intakeand this one were decided upon at the last minute, and having once been a cardinal an ocean away with better things to do than upend a full schedule for a long flight and week in Rome, convoking the global College on a month’s notice is a practice the Pope has been resolutely determined to avoid.
As an example of the haul, though many US and Latin American red-hats have direct flights or something close, among more recent creations, Tonga’s Cardinal Soane Paini Mafi – the first ecclesial “prince” to be given the island’s minority fold of 15,000 Catholics – has to make three or four connections over a 24-hour trip and, despite being a relatively young 55, collapsed while making the journey for Curial meetings in April.
Yet speaking of the “peripheries” which form this pontificate’s philosophical core, this Consistory marks a particularly salient milestone: while Francis will have chosen forty percent of his successor’s eventual electors once the new crop’s names are formally pronounced at the rites, another stat puts the new shape of things in an even clearer context – with this wave’s additions of Mali, Sweden, Laos and El Salvador, Papa Bergoglio has named 13 cardinals with voting rights who are each the first representatives of their home-countries in the College.
In other words, that group now comprises more than 10 percent of the total electorate for the first time.
Still, even that doesn’t completely put the ramifications of this shift in full light… one needs a completely different angle of looking at it.
Over days like these, see, the world is told almost ad nauseam that the College of Cardinals “chooses the next Pope.” The actual point, however, is hidden within that:
One of them will be the next Pope.
And when you remember how Conclave Math works, even if nothing else changes after this morning, the “shape of the pieces” when that day comes has already shattered the mould from anything that’s preceded it.
That said, though, the text which seems to have made the greatest impression on this front is a far shorter, simpler one: the letter the pontiff sent to his first class of 19 cardinals-designate on revealing their names in January 2014, and subsequently released by the Vatican….
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 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.
Until we meet, then, on 20 February… 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.