VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis welcomed 20 new cardinals Saturday into the elite club of churchmen who will elect his successor and immediately delivered a tough-love message, telling them to put aside their pride, jealousy and self-interest and instead exercise charity.
Francis issued the marching orders during the ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica to elevate the new “princes of the church” into the College of Cardinals and give them their new red hats.
Retired Pope Benedict XVI was on hand for the ceremony, sitting to the side in the front row of the basilica, in a unique blending of popes past, present and future. Francis embraced him at the start and the end of the service and a cluster of cardinals lined up to greet him before processing out.
Many of the new cardinals hail from far-flung, often overlooked dioceses where Catholics are a distinct minority — a reflection of Francis’ insistence that the church look to the peripheries and reflect them in its governance. Several are pastors who, like Francis, have focused their ministries on the poor and disenfranchised.
In his homily, Francis reminded his newest collaborators that being a cardinal isn’t a prize or fancy entitlement, but rather a way to serve the church better in humility and tenderness.
He warned them that not even churchmen are immune from the temptation to be jealous, angry or proud, or to pursue their own self-interest, even when “cloaked in noble appearances.”
“Even here, charity, and charity alone, frees us,” he said. “Above all it frees us from the mortal danger of pent-up anger, of that smoldering anger which makes us brood over wrongs we have received. No. This is unacceptable in a man of the church.”
In some ways, his tough words were a toned-down version of the blistering critique he delivered right before Christmas to Vatican bureaucrats. Then, he ticked off 15 ailments including “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and the “terrorism of gossip,” that can afflict men of the church even at its highest levels.
This is Francis’ second consistory creating new cardinals and once again he looked to give greater geographic representation to the Europe-centric College of Cardinals.
His choices, though, also reflect his vision for what the church should be: One that looks out for the poor and most marginalized, guided by shepherds who have what he has called the “smell” of their sheep.
They include Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi of Tonga, a tiny island state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is on the front lines of global warming.
Another is Cardinal Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento, Sicily, whose church — which extends to the island of Lampedusa — has coped with the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants over the years.
And there’s the archbishop of David, Panama, Cardinal Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan, who works with indigenous peoples to protect them from mining interests.
While cardinals are called on to advise the pope, their primary job is to elect a new one. Only those under age 80 can participate in a conclave and with Saturday’s additions, their number stands at 125 — five over the traditional cap, though four of them will turn 80 this year. The college as a whole numbers 227.
In addition to naming 15 voting-age cardinals, Francis also made five elderly churchmen cardinals to honor their service to the church.
One of them, Colombian Cardinal José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez, wasn’t able to make the trip to Rome for the ceremony because of his age: He turns 96 next week and will have his red hat delivered to him.