by Francis X. Rocca
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – On a feast day commemorating the authority Jesus gave to St. Peter and His successors – the popes – Pope Francis created 19 new cardinals in the presence of retired Pope Benedict XVI.
To the great surprise of most people present, the retired pope entered St. Peter’s Basilica about 15 minutes before the new cardinals and Pope Francis. Wearing a long white coat and using a cane, he took a seat in the front row next to Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict’s presence at the consistory Feb. 22, the feast of the Chair of Peter, marked the first time he had joined Pope Francis for a public prayer service in the basilica. Pope Benedict resigned Feb. 28, 2013, becoming the first pope in almost 600 years to do so.
Before beginning the service, Pope Francis walked over to Pope Benedict, who removed his zucchetto to greet Pope Francis. The scene was repeated at the end of the consistory.
The new cardinals, including Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec and Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, publicly recited the Creed and swore obedience to the pope and his successors before receiving from Pope Francis a red hat, a ring and the assignment of a “titular church” in Rome, becoming part of the clergy of the pope’s diocese.
After they received their red hats, each of the new cardinals walked over to Pope Benedict and greeted him.
Cardinal Lacroix, accompanied by his mother and father at an afternoon reception, said Pope Benedict’s presence “surprised me so much that I broke down in tears.”
The oldest of the new cardinals – and now the oldest cardinal in the world – Cardinal Loris Capovilla, 98, was not present at the ceremony although he became a cardinal the moment Pope Francis pronounced his name. A papal delegate will deliver his red hat to his home in northern Italy.
In his homily Pope Francis did not mention the standard point that the cardinals’ new red vestments are symbols of the call to serve Christ and His Church to the point of shedding their blood, if necessary. Rather, he focused on their being called to follow Christ more closely, to build up the unity of the Church and to proclaim the Gospel more courageously.
The Bible, he said, is filled with stories of Jesus walking with His disciples and teaching them as they traveled.
“This is important,” the pope said. “Jesus did not come to teach a philosophy, an ideology, but rather a ‘way,’ a journey to be undertaken with him, and we learn the way as we go, by walking.”