A Heady Week, and a Multiethnic Vatican

Hierarchy and Holiness Come to the Fore

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By Delia Gallagher

ROME, OCT. 23, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Whew, what a week! The Vatican hasn’t seen such a flurry of activity in some time: the Pope’s 25th anniversary Mass, Mother Teresa’s beatification and the making of 30 new cardinals, all in seven days.

A normally placid St. Peter’s Square was suddenly overrun with TV cameras, tulips flown in from the Netherlands, Indian nuns in white-and-blue habits, African women in colorful headdress and new cardinals wearing red robes for the first time.

Mother Teresa’s beatification was the best-attended event; a crowd of 300,000 filled the square and lined the Via della Conciliazione. After a Saturday downpour, many remarked at the “miracle” of blue skies and sun for the Sunday morning celebration.

In a week that was bracketed by celebrations of a Pope and of cardinals, of the hierarchical aspects of the Church, it was significant that pride of place was given to a woman who had spent her life far from Rome and played no part in the official structure of the Vatican.

Mother Teresa owned two saris. She lived a life of radical poverty; a life as close to the commands of the Gospels as it is perhaps possible to live. She did not speak from a pulpit nor issue theological documents — in fact, she has been criticized for not attempting to change the economic structures that oppressed the poor she was serving.

Somehow, however, her word was heard. Everyone who came to St. Peter’s Square on Sunday had a story about Mother.

A German friend of mine tells about timidly kneeling before Mother Teresa and quickly rising to walk away, unable to say anything. Mother Teresa grabbed her arm and said, “You must find out who your poor are.”

Mother Teresa recognized that the “poor” are not only those who are dying in the streets of Calcutta and that service to the poor comes in many forms.

Cardinals, too, are called to follow the example of Mother Teresa, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna pointed out in his homily the next day at the Dominican Church of Santa Sabina.

Cardinal Schönborn was speaking at the episcopal investiture of the papal theologian Father Georges Cottier, who had quite a day, becoming bishop and then cardinal in 24 hours. (It is now the norm, saving exceptional cases, for those not already bishops to receive the episcopal ordination before entering into the College of Cardinals.)

That Cardinal Schönborn, speaking in a church where St. Dominic prayed and St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the first chapter of his “Summa Theologiae,” chose Mother Teresa as an example of holiness for his fellow bishops and cardinals, is testament to the power of “doing little things with great love” and to St. Paul’s idea of a Church that is one Spirit with different gifts.

In all the pomp and circumstance of the consistory (the two days in which the new cardinals receive their hats and rings from the Pope) it was good to remember the example of the little nun with her two saris. This too is the Church, the juxtaposition seemed to say.

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One Church, Many Nations

The face of the Church was also seen in the international flavor of the ceremonies of the past week.

Indian women in saris danced on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica throwing rose petals at the feet of the Pope during Mother Teresa’s beatification mass. The consistory Mass was filled with people from every nation both in the crowd and on the altar.

It seems that the international diversity of the Church has reached a sort of flowering. Since the Second Vatican Council, efforts have been made to “open up” the Vatican and encourage an international presence of priests and cardinals in the Roman Curia.

“I personally benefited from this effort,” newly installed American Cardinal Justin Rigali told me, “when I came to work in the Secretariat of State in the ’60s.”

Now, in 2003, one sees clearly the fruits of these incremental changes that have been taking place since the Council.

With the addition of 30 new members, the College of Cardinals has for the first time tipped in favor of non-European cardinal-electors. Of the 135 cardinal-electors, 66 are European, 38 from North, Central and South America, 13 from Africa, 13 from Asia, and five from Oceania.

During John Paul II’s pontificate, the heads of the Vatican dicasteries have come from Africa and North and South America as well as Europe.

For every new cardinal this week, there was a following of friends and family cheering him on. At the consistory ceremony on Tuesday morning, Vietnamese women hoisted themselves up on the railings for a better view of Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Minh Man, while just behind them Africans in regal prints clapped for their second cardinal from Nigeria, Anthony Olubunmi Okogie. Spanish, Portuguese and French, and English with Australian and Scottish accents, were the languages of the day.

A few hours later, those same well-wishers seemed poised to storm the Vatican as a mad crush developed outside the bronze doors (to the right of the basilica) for a two-hour "open house.” It was a rare chance to enter the Vatican, see rooms normally closed to the public and get your picture taken with your favorite cardinal.

When the doors were opened, the Swiss Guards were overrun.

This image of men, women and children from Africa, India, Asia and South America breezing past pike-toting Swiss Guards, to head up the wide stone staircase of the Apostolic Palace and greet their cardinals is a sign of the new Church.

“Vocations are up in Africa, Asia and Latin and South America,” Colombian Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, told me at a reception on Monday evening. “It is misleading to say there is a crisis in vocations.”

But where does this leave the Western world?

“Communities die and are born,” said Cardinal Castrillón. “If the community under St. John and Mary died out, then we should not be worried if the same happens today.”

“It is all part of God’s plan,” he added.

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Readers may contact Delia Gallagher at delia@zenit.org.

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