Archbishop Collins dons the red hatFATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
It's the closest the red carpet ever gets to St. Peter’s.
There is a touch of stardom, even celebrity and, as a careful eye may observe here and there, a hint of occasional vainglory too. It's consistory day in Rome, when the Pope creates new cardinals from among the world's senior archbishops.
Today, Thomas Collins, the archbishop of Toronto, will receive the "red hat" along with 21 others — the symbol of their new rank as cardinals of the Holy Roman Church.
In another time, one commonly heard the phrase "princes of the Church" and the cardinals were seen as just that — the most noble prelates in the papal court. Their honours were many and their responsibility was solemn: It falls to them to elect the next successor to Saint Peter when the Pope dies.
While there are still men of ambition and power in the college of cardinals — and ever thus it will be — most of them do not carry themselves as princes. Cardinal Collins is preternaturally humble, and those invited to meet him for a meal in Toronto are still likely to find themselves enjoying the best that Fran's Diner has to offer.
The undisputed "star" of this group of new cardinals is the archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, who would more likely choose to be the court jester rather than the crown prince in any royal court. After all, it's the jester who speaks the truth more than the others, using laughter to make it palatable.
But being a cardinal is serious business, and Friday Cardinal Dolan demonstrated as much in an address to his brother cardinals. Leaving aside for the most part the laughs that put so many at ease, the "archbishop of the capital of the world" — as Pope John Paul II called Cardinal Dolan's predecessor in New York — focused on the challenge facing the cardinals in the 21st century
The cardinals' red is not the red carpet of stardom, but the blood of martyrs.
"Tomorrow, twenty-two of us will hear what most of you have heard before," Cardinal Dolan said on Friday morning. "To the praise of God and the honour of the Apostolic See, receive the red biretta, the sign of the cardinal's dignity, and know that you must be willing to conduct yourselves with fortitude even to the shedding of your blood.
"Holy Father, can you omit 'to the shedding of your blood' when you present me with the biretta?" he continued. "Of course not! We are but 'scarlet audio-visual aids' for all of our brothers and sisters also called to be ready to suffer and die for Jesus."
Aside from electing a new pope, the principal task of cardinals is to advise the Vatican in the governance of the universal Church. Those cardinals who also head major archdioceses, like Toronto and New York, continue their work as local archbishops. In addition, they will be assigned to Vatican "congregations" in Rome, the principal departments of the Holy See. As such, they will usually travel to Rome several times a year for meetings of those congregations — doctrine, bishops, clergy, family, justice and peace, for example — to provide advice and, in some cases, deliberate on particular cases.
Being made a cardinal then is both an honour and a responsibility, as the exercise of authority and influence always is. The thousands of pilgrims accompanying the new cardinals to Rome participate in the honours and congratulations — including a high-level delegation of MPs from Canada led by Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty and Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Jason Kenney. The work afterwards is rather more lonely and usually behind the scenes.
The swirling scarlet of today is part of the great public theatre of Catholicism. The red birettas and cassocks make the Church's Roman dimension visible in the new cardinals. They are audiovisual aids to be sure — a reminder that they are called to lead the faithful in a new evangelization, even to the shedding of their blood.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Archbishop Collins dons the red hat." National Post, (Canada) February 18, 2012.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
Copyright © 2012 National Post
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