Spiritan Features

Some thoughts on the recent nomination of 17 new Cardinals ~ Marc Whelan C.S.Sp.

Marc Whelan C.S.Sp.Asked what his elevation as Cardinal meant, Archbishop Maurice E. Piat C.S.Sp. from Mauritius said that it was not about himself but a sign of Pope Francis’ attention and love for the little ones. For the Church in Mauritius, “a small church in a small island”, this is an honour.

The nomination of Archbishop Piat, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga C.S.Sp., from the Central African Republic, and 15 others is not about the big metropolis but about the peripheries. As always, Pope Francis is sending out a message and, like much of what he says, the message is nuanced and can be read at many different levels. While the headline nominations may be American Cardinals Cupich, Tobin and Farrell, who are resisting the huge pressures in American society to divide along “culture lines”, the absence of big-ticket names speaks as eloquently as those whose identities we have to google or whose location we need to find on the map. Analysts will seek to parse and scrutinise the nominations in the weeks ahead.

For me one significant thread runs through the list of nominees published by the Vatican. Apart from the fact that ten come from outside Europe and the USA and that a number are pastors of dioceses with relatively small numbers of Catholics, five are members of specific missionary religious congregations. As well as our two Spiritan confrères, there is one each from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and from the Redemptorists.

In this year of Mercy, when Pope Francis commissioned Missionaries of Mercy to spread the Joy of the Gospel and the Good News to all the world, the new appointments are a very clear statement that the Consistory that takes place in November will indeed be a missionary one. Pope Francis is putting God’s Mission at the heart of the Church. I think that we are seeing a new form of mission corresponding to the needs of the times in which we live. Mission, understood as evangelising and converting - bringing people into the fold - has developed since Vatican II into a cry for liberation and the integral development of peoples around the world.

Today we see that missionaries are working to bring peace and reconciliation in places torn apart by conflict and division. In a world becoming more and more polarised, and where Islam is pitted against Christianity, missionaries like Archbishop Mario Zenari Nuncio in war-ravaged Syria or Archbishop Nzapalainga in the Central African Republic are called to promote dialogue and respect between those of different faiths and none. Missionaries today give witness in a very simple and often unassuming way to the need to proclaim that, whatever differences there are, these should never be used to divide us or exclude others. For this, a deep faith and life of prayer is necessary to ground the missionary in the Spirit-filled life of God’s Mission. In other times, perhaps, a missionary was seen as a pioneer or a trailblazer. Today, a missionary is called to be a contemplative and mystic in the midst of an often complex world.

As Pope Francis prays in his World Mission Day message, “May Holy Mary, sublime icon of redeemed humanity, model of missionaries for the Church, teach all men, women and families, to foster and safeguard the living and mysterious presence of the Risen Lord in every place, he who renews personal relationships, cultures and peoples, and who fills all with joyful mercy. 

Fr. Whelan is Provincial of the Spiritans in Ireland.