Nigerian Archbishop among six elevated to the College of Cardinals
At a ceremony held at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican over the weekend, Pope Benedict XVI named six new non – European to join the College of Cardinals, also known as the “Clergy of Rome.”
The College of Cardinals is charged with the responsibility of electing the Pope as the Bishop of Rome and Successor to St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ on Earth and the universal Pastor of the universal church.
Among the newly elevated “Princes of the Church” is Nigerian Archbishop of Abuja, John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan. The others include Archbishop James M. Harvey, Prefect of the Papal Household; His Beatitude, Bechara Boutros Raï, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch in Lebanon; His Beatitude, Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum in India and head of the Syro-Malankara Church; Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogotá, Colombia; and Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines.
Effective immediately, the new Cardinals will don their new scarlet robes designed exclusively for their new identity and responsibility. They also received new symbols including a gold ring, the skull cap also known as “zucchetto,” and the biretta – the three – cornered hat. They also received a document stating specifically the name of the cardinal's titular church in Rome and their membership to the clergy of Rome.
The new Cardinals pledged to serve generously and professed love for God, his church and an absolute and unconditional love for their brothers and sisters even if it means shedding their blood in service to the church.
Extending brotherly greetings to all who gathered in St. Peter's to witness the solemn occasion from around the world representing different cultures which together form the universal church, Pope Benedict, in his homily, highlighted “the fact that the Church is the Church of all peoples, and so she speaks in the various cultures of the different continents.”
To the new Cardinals, Benedict XVI underscored “the supreme value of fidelity” which comes with their new responsibilities. “Indeed, the oath that you are about to take, venerable brothers, contains words filled with profound spiritual and ecclesial significance: “I promise and I swear, from now on and for as long as I live, to remain faithful to Christ and his Gospel, constantly obedient to the Holy Apostolic Roman Church”.
“You must be prepared to conduct yourselves with fortitude, even to the shedding of your blood, for the increase of the Christian faith, for the peace and well-being of the people of God,” stressed Pope Benedict.
In addition, Benedict XVI affirmed the image that the College of Cardinals has always been associated with; an exclusive club in the Catholic Church. Anyone chosen to be a member is informally, at least, considered a potential candidate to be elected Pope and lead the universal church should the need arise.
“From now on, you will be even more closely and intimately linked to the See of Peter: the titles and deaconries of the churches of Rome will remind you of the bond that joins you, as members by a very special title, to this Church of Rome, which presides in universal charity. Particularly through the work you do for the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, you will be my valued co-workers, first and foremost in my apostolic ministry for the fullness of catholicity, as Pastor of the whole flock of Christ and prime guarantor of its doctrine, discipline and morals, “said Pope Benedict.
Earlier in February, Pope Benedict also elevated 22 Cardinals who were mostly Europeans. With the six new non – European Cardinals, Vatican observers believe that the Pontiff seeks to bring a more global, diverse and inclusive membership to the College. Furthermore, the pontiff's actions aim to replace aging Cardinals (at age 80) who are excluded from entering the secret conclave and therefore no longer eligible to participate in the election of a Pope.