Francis’ first class – consistory called for February

cardinalsAfter a few days of rumours, it was confirmed today: Francis’ first class of cardinals is to be created on 22 February 2014, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. This places it a year and four days after Pope Benedict XVI next-to-last consistory which saw, among others, the creation of Cardinal Wim Eijk.

As February 2014 dawns, there will be 106 electors in the College of Cardinals, members who can vote in a conclave and also hold seats in the various dicasteries of the Curia. That is 14 below the flexible maximum number of 120, so Pope Francis could create as many as 14 new voting cardinals, which is a pretty standard number for a consistory. Added to that me be a number of non-voting cardinals, as Benedict XVI did in five of his six consistories. Likely candidates seem to be Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Archbishop Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy; Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family; and of course Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State.

But that’s just in the Curia. As to what diocesan bishops and archbishops may be created cardinals, the field seems to be wide open. Pope Francis most likely does not feel bound by the traditional cardinalatial sees, but much more by the person of a future cardinal. Coupled with his focus on the poor, we should perhaps not be surprised if a fair number of the new cardinals come from South America, Africa and Asia.

léonardIn the Low Countries, the eyes are of course on Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, the great archbishop of Brussels. If elevated to the College of Cardinals, he would be the eight in a line of cardinals which began with Cardinal Engelbert Sterckx, created by Pope Gregory XVI in 1838.

Regarding other parts of the globe, the great guessing game is once more gearing up, and here is my tentative attempt at participating in it. The Holy Father may wish to focus  especially on the aforementioned three continents of South America, Africa and Asia (the latter two notoriously underrepresented in the College of Cardinals which, it must be said, is not intended to be a representative body. For Pope Francis however, representation may be desirable) as part of the continuing reform of both the College of Cardinals and the Roman Curia. But, as far as the latter is concerned, the most effective first step is probably found in the field of appointments, and not in new cardinals yet.

Photo credit: [1] Michael Kappeler/DPA/Abaca Press/MCT

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Tu es Petrus…

Christs handing the keys to St. Peter, by Pietro Perugino

[Y]ou are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

Mt. 16, 18-19

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the cathedra Petri, the Chair of St. Peter, and looks back at her creation, her establishment by Jesus Christ upon the rock that is St. Peter. The promise recounted in the Gospel of Matthew, which I quote above, continues to be a backbone of the Church’s identity. It shows that she is not a human construct, although she consists of humans – after all, Christ Himself established the Church. It conveys a unity upon the Church which literally no one or nothing outside her can disrupt. That is why any splits can never lead to two separate Churches. There is and always has been the one Church that Christ established for us Himself.

The papacy, the long line of successors to St. Peter as leader of the Church in Rome, also finds part of its origin in these verses (the other is Christ’s command to Peter to shepherd His flock). The rock that was St. Peter did not suddenly vanish when he died. It continues as the foundation of Christ’s Church on Earth, and we can see it every day in the person of the pope. As my priest said before Mass began today: the Holy Father is the sign of our unity.