During the ‘courtesy visits’ following the Ordinary Public Consistory for the creation of 20 new Cardinals Saturday afternoon in the Paul VI Hall or the Apostolic Palace, several of the new cardinals spoke to ZENIT on what the experience has meant to them.
Each of the recently chosen cardinals from Tonga, New Zealand, and Myanmar expressed that while the news of their nomination had come as a surprise, they felt truly blessed.
Cardinal John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, said he felt the support from people in his homeland and around the world following his elevation.
"Despite it being very overwhelming, especially in the beginning, between the support of people from New Zealand and from other parts of the world," he said "their support has been very strong and tangible."
Elaborating on their “wonderful support,” he expressed that he knew that he came to Rome with the wishes and the prayers of so many people and said he was “really conscious of it today when I walked into St. Peter's Basilica."
“I knew how many faithful were praying and in support of this, which was a wonderful feeling,” he said.
Speaking on the last days in the Vatican during the consistory meetings, he noted: “Being here for the last couple of days for the meetings on the reform of the Curia was also a powerful experience, to hear some of the seasoned cardinals say, "You know, we’ve asked for things like this before, particularly in terms of economic reform, but we’ve never had the opportunity [to make it happen.] It’s the first time we’ve heard this.”
In this sense, he added, “There’s sort of a sense of excitement that something new is happening.”
Responding to whether there is something in particular about the reform which excites him or which he would like to see, the new cardinal said he thinks the possibility of reforms or increased dialogue between the Curia and dioceses is a great step forward.
When asked his views on the Holy Father’s leadership, he views Pope Francis as an “inspirational leader, a courageous leader.”
Giving a personal anecdote, the cardinal recalled the Pope asking him to ‘Pray for me”. "I said, ‘Holy Father, the people of New Zealand do pray for you and are very supportive of his leadership.’
The New Zealand Cardinal said he was convinced that the world feels the same way.
Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel from Ethiopia also shared his thoughts on his elevation to the College of Cardinals.
When asked his reaction to his nomination, the Archbishop of Addis Abeba (Ethiopia) said he was surprised, especially because from the beginning he was not aware of it due to the time difference. He said he had heard about it two hours later.
“When I heard about it,” he noted, “I was humbled. I felt that the Holy Father has searched Ethiopia, and considered Ethiopia to be worthwhile, to be connected to the Universal Church.”
“So, here I am and I will try my best to be his counselor, to help him in the administration or in the governance of the Universal Church.”
Responding to what he believes is needed most in the Church in Ethiopia, he answered: “the recognition that Ethiopia is a very ancient Christian country” and that “the important thing about Ethiopia is its faith, the faith all the country has, through all the centuries.”
“It is the only country which has saved its faith despite various challenges in the area, and, after Russia, the biggest number of Christians is now in Ethiopia."
Although the majority in Ethiopia are Orthodox Christians, the cardinal noted that Ethiopia is now changing.
“It is no longer the Ethiopia we knew. Now Ethiopia is getting educated and facing challenges to modernize the country.”
Cardinal Souraphiel said that he hopes the Holy Father will stop by Ethiopia during his proposed visit to Africa this year. “We will invite the Holy Father to visit Ethiopia, also because Ethiopia now is the capital of Africa," he said.
“I hope he will come to address all the Ethiopian natives, especially realizing how Africa has its own traditional values, emphasizing respect for life and respect for humanity, which we can share with the rest of humanity."
'An Incredible Experience for the Church'
In response to the media pointing out how many similarities exist between him and the Holy Father, in terms of a simple, humble nature, Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi of Tonga said it is just who he is. While expressing his great respect and admiration for Pope Francis, Cardinal Mafi said he is truly his own person and never acts in a way in order to resemble the Holy Father.
Around Cardinal Mafi, many loved ones from his nation were surrounding him, playing music, and singing.
Regarding this, the cardinal said it reflected the “great faith” and “great pride of his people.”
Responding the experience of his elevation, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon (Myanmar) said: "This is an incredible experience for the whole Church and for all the people of Myanmar."
"This is an especially big step for the people of my country as they move toward democracy and towards reconciliation and development."
Regarding the Church in Myanmar in this moment, he said that: "People should be aware of the 500-year celebration of the presence of the Catholic Church in the nation."
Cardinal Bo concluded by saying that he asked Pope Francis to visit Myanmar, and the Holy Father implied that they could do so together.