Pope Benedict XVI said he wanted his Nov. 24 consistory, the fifth of his papacy, to express the universality of Catholicism. His choice of six new cardinals from every continent except Europe was designed to convey, as he put it Saturday, that the church belongs "to all the peoples" and expresses itself "in the various cultures of the different continents."
If my experience at Rome's Urban College yesterday is any indication, you can consider the point made.
Over the years I've covered seven consistories, the events in which a pope creates new cardinals. As part of the experience, I've also attended scores of post-consistory receptions, both the ones staged by the Vatican inside the Apostolic Palace (the only time that the doors of the place are flung open to the general public), and ones hosted by other parties – diplomatic embassies, Catholic organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, and so on.
By any standard, the reception my wife and I witnessed on Sunday afternoon was not your typical Roman affair. It featured not one but three different African dance and vocal troupes, a buffet with classic African dishes such as tuwo shinkafa (a thick rice pudding served with spicy soup), and the new cardinal himself sashaying to the head table as drums pounded and Ibo singers serenaded his arrival.
The guest of honor was Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, one of six new cardinals elevated over the weekend. Aside from American Cardinal James Harvey, the longtime prefect of the papal household, the other five came from outside the West. In addition to Onaiyekan, they were:
One bit of proof that this consistory belonged to the whole world, and not just the West, is that the Lebanese contingent celebrating Raï's red hat included a delegation from Hezbollah, which is seen in the West as a terrorist group but which functions in Lebanon as a political party and mainstream social movement.
Each consistory tends to have its rock star cardinal, the one guy who towers over the others in terms of media appeal, the size of the crowds he draws, and so on. This time the rock star was probably Tagle, mostly because he's seen as "the great Asian hope," meaning the most credible contender from his part of the world to become pope someday.
The 55-year-old Tagle is the real deal, a genuine intellectual with a popular touch, and perhaps the best natural communicator among the Asian bishops. During the recent synod on evangelization, he won both hearts and minds by arguing for a humbler, simpler church with a greater capacity for silence.
Yet each of the new cardinals illustrates the staggering universality of the church, and Onaiyekan is a good case in point. Not only is he a reminder that Africa is still under-represented in the College of Cardinals relative to its Catholic population, but Onaiyekan's biography also reflects the unique social role church leaders often play on the most intensely religious continent on the planet.
Source: National Catholic Reporter