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Issue Date:  December 7, 2007

-- CNS/Paul Haring

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, left, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, talks with Iraqi Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly of Baghdad at the Vatican Nov. 26.
Global concerns dominate meeting of pope, cardinals


A Nov. 24 consistory in which Pope Benedict XVI created 23 new cardinals, including two Americans, reflected several key global concerns of the Catholic church, even as church officials struggled to respond to charges that the makeup of the College of Cardinals does not represent the global Catholic population.

In a consistory without obvious new papal candidates, in many ways the star was Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, head of the Chaldean Catholic church in Iraq. Delly drew the loudest cheers and longest lines of well-wishers of all the new cardinals, in an expression of concern for violence in Iraq and the decimation of the country’s Christian community.

Delly was the lone cardinal singled out by Pope Benedict during his homily at the consistory ceremony.

“These brothers and sisters of ours in the faith are experiencing in their own flesh the dramatic consequences of a long-lasting conflict, and are living today in an extremely fragile and delicate political situation,” the pope said. “By calling the patriarch of the Chaldean church to enter into the College of Cardinals, I wanted to express my spiritual closeness and affection for this population.”

Twenty years ago, Iraq had an estimated Christian population of 1.4 million, one of the largest in the Muslim world. Today, estimates are that at least one-quarter, and perhaps one-half, of Iraq’s Christians have fled. Those figures do not take into account Iraqi Christians who are internally displaced.

On Nov. 25, Benedict also called upon Catholics worldwide to join a day of prayer set aside by the American bishops for the Nov. 27 Annapolis conference on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. A Vatican delegation took part in that session.

Another drive for global reconciliation was behind a Nov. 23 business meeting of the entire College of Cardinals with the pope, only the second such gathering since Benedict took office in April 2005. The daylong discussion was devoted largely to ecumenism, meaning the search for unity among the divided Christian churches.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German who serves as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, urged Catholics to renew their commitment to unity.

“We should not offend the sensibilities of others or seek to discredit them,” Kasper said. “We should not point the finger at what our ecumenical partners are not, and what they lack. Rather, we should give witness to the richness and the beauty of our faith in a positive and welcoming way. We expect the same approach from the others.”

Several cardinals argued that practical cooperation on social, political and cultural questions, rather than new theological breakthroughs, offer the greatest ecumenical promise. Cardinals Audrys Juozas Backis of Lithuania and Janis Pujats of Latvia, for example, stressed that a common battle against secularization offers fertile ecumenical terrain with the Orthodox.

Yet for all the global character of both the discussion and symbolism, observers could not help but note that Benedict’s picks cemented the European and North American dominance of the College of Cardinals. Two-thirds of the cardinals come from the Global North, while two-thirds of the 1.1 billion Catholics in the world today are in the Global South -- Latin America, Africa and Asia.

The Vatican’s secretary of state, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, argued the day before the consistory that the makeup of the college is actually representative -- but of clergy, not average Catholics.

“If one considers only in a mathematical sense the relationship between the faithful and the cardinals, it could perhaps seem unequal,” Bertone said. “But if one looks more carefully at the data on the distribution of priests and bishops in the world, the proportions appear more balanced.”

Bertone’s comments came in an interview with L’Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference. Bertone was asked to respond to articles in NCR and the Italian news agency ANSA suggesting that Latin America, Africa and Asia are underrepresented.

The L’Avvenire piece noted that the two countries with the largest number of cardinal-electors, Italy and the United States, are also those with the largest numbers of bishops and priests. Italy has more than 51,000 priests and over 500 bishops, while the United States has over 45,000 priests and more than 430 bishops.

The two new American cardinals are John Foley of Philadelphia, currently serving in the Vatican as the pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, and Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

Foley and DiNardo held a brief news conference at the North American College, the American seminary in Rome, after the Nov. 24 consistory ceremony. The avuncular Foley thanked the media for largely positive coverage of his 23-year Vatican career.

“It’s nice to be canonized without the inconvenience of dying!” he said.

On the Web
Allen provided daily dispatches from Rome about the consistory. Read all the material on his daily Web column

National Catholic Reporter, December 7, 2007

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