Pope Francis presided over the first consistory of his papacy at St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, February 22 in Rome, Italy. A consistory is the ceremony in which the Pope appoints new cardinals. It is of great significance to mention that former Pope Benedict XVI, now referred to as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and who made headlines last February when he retired the papacy due to failing health, was in attendance. His presence marked an historic move that was the first of its kind and could set off a chain of events that would signify a considerable shift in tone and direction for the Roman Catholic Church. This appointment ceremony serves as a bookend for a week-long summit in which Roman Catholic leaders examined church policies and collaborated on how to approach modern-day social issues.
The consistory proceeded in customary fashion as the 19 new cardinals knelt before Pope Francis to receive their ceremonial adornments, which included their traditional red hat and robes, as well as a gold ring of office. The ceremony was conducted in Latin and follows strict tradition. In terms of church hierarchy, cardinals are second only to the pontiff, as the Pope is often referred, himself. It is very significant that the new cardinals were selected from 15 different countries including Spain, Italy, South Korea, and Canada, as well as economically devastated Haiti, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso. The inclusion of the poorer countries follows what many have associated with Pope Francis’ commitment to encourage the church to do more for the poor and disenfranchised. The pontiff’s dedication to this cause has earned him the moniker ‘Pope of the Poor.’ The pontiff’s selections clearly send the message that the church intends to embrace the less fortunate and move toward a more tolerant and welcoming perspective.
Following this first appointment ceremony for Pope Francis, the 19 new cardinals join the exclusive College of Cardinals, which serves as the Vatican’s governing body and aids the Pope in reviewing and amending church guidelines. In addition, the College of Cardinals also plays a pivotal role in selecting the pontiff in a ceremony known as the papal conclave. During the conclave, 120 cardinals cast their votes to elect the new Pope. All but three of the newly appointed cardinals will cast their votes to elect Pope Francis’ successor when the time comes. Three of the cardinals will turn 80 within the next three months, which is the age limit cut off for voting eligibility according to church guidelines.
This first appointment ceremony held additional significance in that it was the first time the current and former pontiffs came together at a public liturgical service and it served as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s first public appearance at such a significant event since he resigned his papacy last year. Benedict’s presence at the consistory indicated continuity and approval of the current pontiff’s selections and could be seen as a gradual, limited re-entry into public life for the frail and ailing Benedict. The reaction to Benedict’s appearance was awe-inspiring and very moving for everyone involved. To honor Benedict’s presence at the ceremony, each newly appointed cardinal paid their respects to the former pontiff immediately after receiving their blessing and adornments from Pope Francis.
As part of the week-long events planned, discussions on many issues of great social importance were on the agenda, including divorce, annulment, contraception, social relevance of the Catholic Church, and greater acceptance under church guidelines – all of which went largely unresolved. Many of the proposals were put on hold for review and discussion at future meetings in a few months, and there was a sense that the leaders felt additional time was needed to reflect upon and examine the weighty issues facing the Catholic Church. This sentiment was driven home by Pope Francis’ remarks made during the cardinal appointment ceremony where he urged all the cardinals “to think outside the box” when drafting and considering new policies for the Catholic Church. It is recognition of the fact that this is a new age and the Catholic Church must adapt with the times, and such sentiments echoed in this public forum account for the pontiff’s incredible popularity and respect from the masses.
By Leigh Haugh
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