Edoardo Menichelli, together with Francesco Montenegro, Archbishop of Agrigento, and Luigi De Magistris, Pro-Penitentiary Emeritus of the Holy Roman Church, is one of three Italians that will receive the red biretta from Pope Francis this Saturday.
Among the new Cardinals in this upcoming Consistory, the Holy Father has chosen pastors “of the periphery” or, at least, Non-Titulars of traditional Cardinal Sees: Menichelli’s nomination confirms this line.
In a telephone interview with ZENIT, the new Cardinal of the Marche region recounted the history of his priestly vocation, the fruit of great sacrifice, and his “prophetic” vision of the Catholic Church, seen more as a spiritual entity than as a “political” or “strategic” subject.
“The appointment took me by surprise and I am grateful to the Holy Father,” said the Archbishop of Ancona, who last year celebrated the 20thanniversary of his Episcopal Ordination and who, this coming July 3rd, will celebrate a half century of priesthood.
After three years spent as parish priest and religion teacher in his native city of San Severino Marche, Cardinal-elect Menichelli spent 26 years at Rome, where he worked in the Roman Curia, coupling his pastoral ministry in the parishes – in particular in the formation to the Sacrament of Marriage – with his work as chaplain.
Menichelli served as an official of the Apostolic Signatura and later, of the Prefecture of the Oriental Churches, in both cases, at the service of Cardinal Achille Silvestrini.
In 1994, Saint John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto. Then, in 2004 he was to the Archdiocese of Ancona-Osimo, of which he is still Titular.
ZENIT: Your Eminence, can you tell us how your priestly vocation was born?
Archbishop Menichelli: My father and my mother were very much believers but I lost them both within 10 years. At that point in my history, my path changed: I had to leave school and begin immediately to work, something quite normal in those years for poor boys. Written within this painful history is what I call the “merciful hand of God”: through the work of a priest, who knew my family well, and of a person of Rome who had also shared in our suffering, the way opened for me to take up my studies again. When I was about 14 years old and did not yet think of a priestly vocation, I was sent to a seminary, in a more humane and protected place. Then a path of discernment began for me that, little, by little, with the help of those responsible for my formation, I understood that the priesthood was my path, which was then taken up by the Church, in the person of the dear Bishop who ordained me, Bishop Ferdinando Longinotti. After my studies in the Regional Seminary of Fano, I was ordained on July 3, 1965: hence this year I will celebrate 50 years of priesthood!
ZENIT: You just celebrated your 75thbirthday: how will your pastoral life continue after the conclusion of your office as Archbishop of Ancona-Osimo?
Archbishop Menichelli: My immediate future will be the continuation of this service for my diocese for the time the Holy Father wishes. At 75, every Bishops puts his ministry in the hands of the Holy Father who, in his kindness, has asked me to continue yet for some time. Putting everything in God’s hands and in our love for Holy Mother Church, we will then see what must be singled out to give meaning to our being priests.
ZENIT: Next Saturday you will become one of the ten Italian Titular Cardinals or Vicars of dioceses: in your opinion, what are the strong points and the weak points of the Italian Church?
Archbishop Menichelli: Very briefly, I believe that we must remember that the strong points are born from on High, from the strength of God, from our faith in Him, from our service, from our word and from the grace of God. The weaknesses belong to the human and, therefore, also to the Church, which is made up of concrete persons, who are also sinners; they are born from that which we do not succeed in living in completeness and fullness. All of us, sometimes, are lacking the passion for man and for the community and, above all, for the Gospel. Then, in this reading, which reflects the meaning of the Church, supernatural and human, eternal and historical, in play are points of strength and points of weakness. We must be able to live Christ’s ministry in his Incarnation, to be in the time of His Death and Resurrection, which accustoms us to look on High and to have the Hope that is born in God’s heart.
ZENIT: Last October, you were one of the Synodal Fathers at the last Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Can you tell us something about this experience?
Archbishop Menichelli: To have been chosen by the Holy Father for the last Synod was, for me, a grace and a very enriching experience, especially because of the testimonies I received, in particular of the most expert Synodal Fathers. It was a significant ecclesial experience, during which we reflected further on some topics concerning the family, its identity, and its pastoral subjectivity, its sacredness and, of course, its wounds. What we did will become a preparatory topic for the next Synod and, of course, it is for us to pray, that God may open the hearts and minds of us all, in a full and true service to the family.
ZENIT: On the occasion of the last Synod, lively controversies were unleashed in the world, because of alleged innovations in the matter of marriage, from Communion to the divorced and remarried to to homosexual couples. What is your opinion on this?
Archbishop Menichelli: When we speak of ecclesial things that concern God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and us, we must put ourselves in another perspective: that of being faithful to Christ our Lord. Jesus Christ gave himself to us and revealed the Father to us under two looks: the look of Truth and the look of Mercy. In time, the Church has always had the task of combining Truth and Mercy for the humanity it encounters: this is the “effort” and the “grace” of the Church and of a pastoral ministry, which does not only concern the family but also all of our daily lives, or of anyone who wants to receive the truth of God, which is unchangeable, and His mercy, which passes through the Church and which is addressed to all. Hence, the controversies are more the fruit of a journalistic theory than of a profound passion for the teaching.
ZENIT: Pope Francis is carrying out a momentous reform of the Roman Curia and insists on the vocation of the Church “for the poor.”
Archbishop Menichelli: On this point also, we must always remember a rule: Ecclesia semper reformanda. This means that the Church, of which we form part, is always placed within a “reform,” which verifies if, as Church, we are faithful to the Word of God and to the ministry He has entrusted to us. There has not been, therefore, a time in which the Church was most holy and a time in which she was full of sins; we are kneaded contemporaneously of poverty and of magnificence. Today the Pope is undoubtedly calling the Church to carry out endeavours of attention to man’s suffering, to be capable of immersing ourselves, as God did, in the wounds of history. And then the Church is called to be prophetic. A silent Church does not serve anyone, a “warlike” Church is not evangelical. What is necessary, rather, is a prophetic Church that carries forth the Word of the Lord, a Word that sometimes is bitter but that gives forth blessings if it is heard and lived.