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17 Years a cardinal: Looking back on the day the future pope got the red hat


Giancarlo Giuliani, CPP

Ary Waldir Ramos Diaz - published on 02/21/18

How was Jorge Bergoglio dressed for the big occasion? And how did he celebrate the day?

February 21, 2001, was the date of the consistory during which then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Borgoglio, was created cardinal by Pope John Paul II.

Right from that moment, the public eye turned to this “cardinal come from far away who doesn’t choose the princely treatment” given to cardinals.

In 1500, poet and priest St. John of the Cross said, “The soul that is in love with God is gentle, humble, and patient.” Such was (and continues to be) the case with Bergoglio.

My people are poor and I am one of them, he has said more than once, according to his official biography on the Vatican web page.

Before the consistory in which he was created cardinal, the future pope was mostly known in the Latin American world; the consistory put him under the observation of the whole world as a candidate to the papacy. In fact, in 2005 he came in second after Joseph Ratzinger in the voting for the Successor of Peter.

For the consistory of February 2001, Bergoglio didn’t want to be accompanied by anybody from Buenos Aires, and he invited his friends to take the money they would have spent on the airplane ticket and give it to the poor or to works of charity instead. After the conclave in 2013, he did the same.

Terse and reticent, the Jesuit didn’t grant many interviews. Commenting on the news of his imminent creation as a cardinal, he said, “Being a cardinal means a greater closeness to the pope and service to the Universal Church. I’m absolutely certain that this is about special attention and particular affection of the pope towards the See of Buenos Aires.”

In the only interview he granted before becoming a cardinal, with Elisabetta Piqué, Italian correspondent of the newspaper La Nación, Bergoglio explained how he was living the lead-up to the event.

“I’m living it religiously. That is to say, I pray, I talk with the Lord, I pray for the diocese, and I don’t live this experience as if I’d made it to some goal. According to the criteria of the Gospel, every step up includes a step down: we must descend to serve better. And I want to take this in that spirit of service,” he revealed.

Another detail that drew attention was that Cardinal Bergoglio didn’t buy a new red cassock for that highly prestigious moment. As a good religious, attentive to his vow of poverty, he had a tailor adjust the cassock of his predecessor, Antonio Quarracino, who died in 1998. In addition, it’s said that even today he uses the same miter as always, which he received when he was ordained a bishop.

It is traditional that, after the Consistory, every new cardinal meets with family, friends, and faithful. After the ceremony, Cardinal Bergoglio received each and every person with the same effusiveness and attention, regardless of who they were; it was enough that they were there as members of the faithful. He didn’t accept any celebratory event or tribute—not even when he returned to Buenos Aires. Total austerity.

That consistory also marked another milestone. Pope John Paul II created 42 cardinals, a number never seen before in the history of the Church, adding 11 Latin American electors to the college of cardinals, as well as international figures including Kasper (Germany), Rodríguez Maradiaga (Honduras), Hummes (Brazil), Mejía (Argentina), Re (Italy), and others.

As mentioned by Il Sismografo, Pope Wojtyla had announced the names of the future cardinals on two occasions: during the Angelus on January 21, and then, one week later, during the Angelus on January 28. During nine consistories, the future saint created a total of 231 cardinals from 69 different countries; the consistory of 2001, in which he gave the cardinal’s biretta to Archbishop Bergoglio, was his second to last.

Pope Francis
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