In just a few weeks, Pope Francis is scheduled to preside over a consistory for the creation of 21 new cardinals.  This was announced in May and was a great surprise to most familiar with the operation of the Vatican.  After all, the Vatican offices are practically closed down in August for the annual Ferragosto, the vacation time taken by many Romans during this, the hottest month of the year.  The last time a cardinal was made in August was in 1807 when Pope Pius VII created Francesco Guidobono Cavalchini a cardinal “in pectore”, that is, in secret.  This appointment wasn’t made public until April 1808 due to political upheaval at the time.

The unusual date for this upcoming consistory was set to coincide with a meeting that our Holy Father is holding with all of the world’s cardinals to focus on the new Apostolic Constitution for the Roman Curia, entitled Praedicate Evangelium.  This new constitution, which enacts sweeping changes in the operation of the Vatican’s various offices, was promulgated on 19 March of this year and took effect on 5 June, the Solemnity of Pentecost.  The consistory, scheduled for 27 August, will precede a two-day meeting between the pope and all cardinals beginning on 29 August.

The date for the consistory is not its only unusual aspect; the list of new cardinals is also unusual.  It follow Pope Francis’ practice throughout his nine-year pontificate of naming Cardinals from countries far and wide and in particular the peripheries of the Church.  Bishops in the dioceses of Ekwulobia in Nigeria, Wa in Ghana, Goa and Hyderabad in India, Dili in East Timor, and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia are among those to become cardinals.  Only one bishop in the United States – Robert McElroy, the Bishop of San Diego – will receive the red hat at this time.  Clearly, Pope Francis is returning the College of Cardinals to its original purpose: to inform the pope on the situation of the Church around the world and advise him on ecclesial matters from the perspective of the faithful the cardinals serve around the world.

Currently, the College of Cardinals consists of 208 Cardinals, 117 who are under the age of 80 and so are eligible to participate in the election of the next pope.  Pope Francis has created 83 of these cardinal-electors.

March 2020 Consistory

As I mentioned above, Pope Francis recently introduced a new Apostolic Constitution for the Roman Curia, entitled Praedicate Evangelium.  You probably already know that the Vatican is governed and administered by 16 Dicasteries, ten Institutions and three Offices; these comprise the Roman Curia.  The structure of this governing body has been reorganized throughout the Church’s history.  It was last done under Pope Saint John Paul II’s papacy with a document entitled Pastor Bonus promulgated in 1988.  This new constitution is entitled Praedicate Evangelium, which is taken from the Gospel of Mark 16:15: “proclaim the gospel.”  It gives a more missionary emphasis to the Curia making it increasingly at the service of the local Churches around the world.  Members of the Curia are called to be missionary disciples.  This new emphasis aligns closely with Pope Francis’ vision of recognizing the essential missionary character of the Church; he has demonstrated that again most recently in the creation of these latest Cardinals.

This new constitution begins with a very clear direction:

Praedicate Evangelium (cf. Mk 16:15; Mt 10:7-8): this is the task that the Lord Jesus entrusted to his disciples. This mandate constitutes “the primary service that the Church can render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world”.  To this end, she has been called to proclaim the Gospel of the Son of God, Christ the Lord, and thereby to awaken in all peoples the hearing of faith (Rom 1:1-5; Gal 3:5). The Church carries out this command above all when, in all that she says and does, she bears witness to the mercy that she herself has graciously received. Our Lord and Master left us an example of this when he washed the feet of his disciples and declared that we shall be blessed if we do likewise (cf. Jn 13:14-17). “An evangelizing community thus gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives, it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others”.  In this way, the people of God fulfils the commandment of the Lord who, in bidding us to proclaim the Gospel, exhorted us to care for those of our brothers and sisters who are most vulnerable, infirm and suffering. (§ 1)

Quoting both Sacred Scriptures and recent papal documents that focused on the missionary aspect of the Church, this constitution makes it clear from the very beginning that the Church receives its mandate from Jesus who calls all his followers to listen to his saving words with ears of faith and to be signs of his mercy and love for all, especially those most in need.

The constitution goes on to speak of the close relationship among the Pope, the Bishops and the Roman Curia:

The Roman Curia is at the service of the Pope, who, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the Bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.  By virtue of this bond, the work of the Roman Curia is also organically related to the College of Bishops and individual Bishops, as well as to Episcopal Conferences and their regional and continental groupings, and the hierarchical structures of the Eastern Churches. All these are of great pastoral benefit as expressions of the affective and effective communion existing among the Bishops. The Roman Curia is not set between the Pope and the Bishops, but is at the service of both, according to the modalities proper to the nature of each. (§ 8)

And, the constitution reiterates the role that all Christians play in the mission of the Church:

The Pope, the Bishops and other ordained ministers are not the sole evangelizers in the Church. They “know that they were not established by Christ to undertake by themselves the entire saving mission of the Church to the world.”  Each Christian, by virtue of baptism, is a missionary disciple “to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus.”  This must necessarily be taken into account in the reform of the Curia, which should consequently make provision for the involvement of lay women and men, also in roles of government and responsibility. Their presence and their participation is essential, since they contribute to the well-being of the entire Church.  By their family life, their engagement in society and their faith, which helps them to discern God’s working in the world, they have much to offer, especially through their promotion of the family, respect for the values of life and creation, the Gospel as a leaven of temporal affairs, and the discernment of the signs of the times. (§ 10)

Pope Francis has already enacted several reforms that are codified in this constitution.  Most notably, he has appointed a number of women to important positions in the Roman Curia; this is long overdue and will surely benefit the Church’s central government as it strives to be of greater service to the universal Church.

Although the Church was founded by Jesus Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit, it is in continual need of reform and renewal.  We look forward to learning how this new constitution will reform and renew the Roman Curia and help all of us continually engage in conversion and embracing missionary discipleship in our faith journey back to our heavenly Father.