Archbishop Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua, capital of Nicaragua, is now a cardinal of the Catholic Church.
On Saturday afternoon after the consistory, the traditional courtesy visits gave the new cardinals a chance to greet relatives, friends and faithful. There was an atmosphere of celebration in Paul VI Hall, while guests approached the new cardinals to greet them and to be photographed with them.
ZENIT talked with Cardinal Brenes to comment on his experience of this morning, his relationship with Pope Francis when he was Cardinal Bergoglio, and his thoughts on seeing Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at this morning’s Consistory.
“Francis is a man of inexhaustible work. He was the coordinator of the redaction of the document [the Aparecida Document on the continental mission for Latin America ndr.] and made us work hard because he was in all the rooms. Sometimes he didn’t sleep so he could work. By chance I was entering the chapel one morning, and he was leaving the work room and I said to him: ‘Eminence, you arrived early’ and he answered me ‘no, I’m just leaving, I’m going to have breakfast.’ He had spent the whole night working. He is a very close man,” said the cardinal.
He also told us how in the working days of the Extraordinary Consistory on the Family “he gave us an example of true humility. He comes with us here from Saint Martha’s.”
Cardinal Brenes said he believes that Francis “is a man who is marking a time for us Bishops. Before there was talk of the Cardinals as Princes of the Church; today the Holy Father said you must be shepherds who go in front of the sheep, in their midst and behind them.”
In regard to this idea, Managua’s cardinal mentioned that he said to the Pope that he likes to be a shepherd who is in the midst of the sheep “because when one is in their midst, one shares with the people the whole experience” and, jokingly, he added that, “as the people bring food, drinks, sweets, the shepherd takes advantage to eat well and to be well accompanied there,” which made Francis laugh.
In regard to the experience he lived Saturday, the new cardinal said that it was “a very lovely experience. I thank the Lord. I didn’t expect to be appointed cardinal because we already have one in Nicaragua. However, the Lord has looked at my person. The Holy Father was inspired by the Spirit and here we are, as I say, to give thrust to this New Evangelization and make the Church that is pilgrimaging in Latin America and in the world today, a Church that lives in a permanent state of mission.”
On asking him about the present situation in his country and the principal challenges they are living, Cardinal Brenes explained that “we are working with youth, with children, but we are also promoting in every parish teams of missionary animation with biblical animation. Today all our dioceses are living in a state of permanent mission, saying and doing what Aparecida encouraged us to make of the Church, a Church of disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ.”
The Cardinal reminded us that recently they celebrated the 100 years of the ecclesiastical province, the Archdiocese of Managua, and that in the main the work they have carried out is evangelization.
He was moved in telling us about the surprise meeting in the Consistory with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. “When I saw him I was startled.”
The cardinal of Managua recalled that he was appointed archbishop on April 1, 2005, when the Holy Father John Paul II was practically in agony, close to dying. Then, already as the new Pope, Benedict XVI invited him to come to Rome with him for the imposition of the Archbishop’s pallium on July 29.
“I have been very close to him, and I know that he felt very close to me. I came to speak with him in 2007 and the secretaries said to me: he has 15 minutes, so you can speak for eight and give the Pope seven. However, when I was in his office we spoke for 35 minutes, in a lovely atmosphere.”
Then he added that this morning, when he went to greet him, he said: “Do you remember that you put the pallium on me?” and he answered: “Yes, there, nine years ago.” The Pope Emeritus congratulated him for this new challenge and promised his prayer, his closeness and he also asked him to pray with him. “The Holy Father Benedict was for me also a very close man.”