VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI presided over the creation of six new cardinals Nov. 24, and in an unusual occurrence, none of them were European.
The consistory took place at 11am on Saturday in St. Peter’s Basilica and involved bishops from the United States, Lebanon, India, Nigeria, Colombia and the Philippines. During the ceremony, the men all received rings from the Pope and made vows to him.
The Pope asked the new cardinals to focus on fidelity and the universality of the Church.
“I want to highlight the fact that the Church is the Church of all peoples and so she speaks in the various cultures of the different continents,” said the Holy Father.
As part of becoming cardinals, they vowed to “cooperate more directly with Benedict XVI and his canonically elected successors” and “to not make known to anyone matters entrusted to me in confidence, the disclosure of which could bring damage or dishonor to the holy Church.”
“What makes the Church 'catholic' is the fact that Christ in his saving mission embraces all humanity,” said Pope Benedict.
He said in his homily that “by following Jesus one enters a new Kingdom that conquers fragmentation and dispersal.”
“Jesus promises that they (the apostles) will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and he confers upon them the task of bearing witness to him all over the world, transcending the cultural and religious confines within which they were accustomed to think and live, so as to open themselves to the universal Kingdom of God,” said the Pope.
The six men who received the honor were the American Archbishop James Michael Harvey, prefect of the papal household, Lebanese Patriarch Bechara Boutros Raï, Indian major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Nigerian Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Colombian Archbishop Rubén Salazar Gómez and Filipino Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle.
“It’s so exciting to be here and have a Nigerian as one of the cardinals,” said Honorus Obasi, who works for the Nigerian embassy to Italy.
“It’s a great occasion because the Church is developing in Africa, and creating a Nigerian cardinal will help the country,” he added.
“Cardinal John Onaiyekan is a very humble” and outspoken man, Obasi said. “We’re very proud and happy to have him here.”
Popes usually create cardinals every two or three years, but this marks the second consistory in 2012, after Pope Benedict held one on Feb. 18 for the creation of 22 cardinals.
The six new cardinals are all under the age of 80, which means they are eligible to vote on who will be the next pope, alongside 120 other cardinals.
The consistory was also notable because it is the first one in decades at which no Europeans were made cardinals.
Lebanon’s Second Cardinal
The Lebanese, whose president also attended the event, expressed their joy of having more representation in the Vatican with Patriarch Bechara Boutros Raï becoming their second cardinal.
“I’m so happy because our country is so small, but we can still now be a part of the Vatican with our second cardinal,” said Tanya Daccache, who was visiting from Keserwan, Lebanon.
“This is going to help Christians in the Middle East because it’s going to force Muslims to respect us more,” she added.
“The Arab Spring has been severely affecting Christians, and we want to be able to stay there. We have a big duty to raise our children with the mentality of staying in Lebanon.”
“We’re such a small country, but we have seven saints,” Daccache added.
A Lebanese entrepreneur who lives in France said he feels that the elevation of Patriarch Raï was a gift from God.
“It’s a donation from God because he is such a great person, and it’s a huge and great pleasure to have our patriarch be a cardinal,” said Raymond Elasmar.
“We’re hoping we will now be more protected in the Middle East, and we hope God gives him the health and the energy to guide all of us,” he said.
Henrietta Devilla, the former Philippine ambassador to the Holy See, is a friend of the newly created Philippine cardinal.
“It’s a sign of grace for the Philippines,” she said of Cardinal Tagle. “I know him personally, and he’s brilliant man and very compassionate.”
“You don’t have to bow to him or anything. He’s like Jesus, who didn’t come to be served but to serve,” Devilla remarked.
“We’re very grateful to the Holy Father for doing this because we’re the only Christian nation in Asia,” she said.
Devilla also noted that Cardinal Tagle is the “only active cardinal because our other two are emeritus.”