Last Saturday, the archbishop emeritus of Pamplona, Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, became a cardinal of the Catholic Church, one of the first 19 created by the Holy Father Francis. Cardinal Sebastián, 84, is one of the three new cardinals who are too old to be electors in the event of a possible conclave.
Last week, Cardinal Sebastián went to the consistory called by the Pope, to talk about the family, the theme of the forthcoming synod of bishops in October. Finally, on Saturday morning the consistory took place in Saint Peter’s Basilica for the creation of the new cardinals, with the surprise attendance of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In the afternoon, Cardinal Sebastián, together with the other 17 new cardinals — Cardinal Capovilla, 93, did not go to Rome due to his advanced age – hosted the courtesy visits in which relatives, friends and faithful greeted and congratulated the new cardinals. On Sunday morning, the newly created cardinals concelebrated Mass with the Pope in Saint Peter’s Basilica, accompanied by the rest of the College of Cardinals and numerous faithful.
On Sunday afternoon, in an interview with ZENIT, Cardinal Sebastián shared the experience of what he lived in the consistory, his call to be a cardinal, the situation of the Church in Spain and the challenges facing the family today.
ZENIT: How did you live last Sunday’s Eucharist with Pope Francis?
Cardinal Sebastián: It was a very beautiful and moving ceremony, in which the Pope exhorted us to share with him the solicitude for all the Churches, to keep alive Jesus’ message, the message of salvation, of illumination, of the rescue of humanity. And he said it with great vigor: “you are not being incorporated in a court, but in a College of Apostles.” I understand it as a call to enter more profoundly in the Church, collaborating more directly with Peter’s ministry in favor of humanity and of the Church. Peter’s ministry is to keep alive Jesus’ message and unity, the dynamism and vitality of all Christians and of the whole Church. Therefore, to collaborate closely with the Pope is like collaborating closely with Jesus himself to keep humanity illumined and to have us know the path of our freedom, of our happiness, of our coexistence. This morning’s Mass (Sunday) was beautiful. I thought “underneath, the relics of Saint Peter, above, the Successor of Saint Peter, around him the Successors of the Apostles,” Peter’s collaborators, for what? So that the whole of humanity is truly one family, so that we live in the truth, are not dominated by error, and have no rivalries. All the races of the world were in the Basilica this morning, in peace and harmony, around Jesus who is the center, the way, and the truth of history. It was a beautiful experience.
ZENIT: And how did you experience Saturday, the moment of your creation as cardinal?
Cardinal Sebastián: I lived it in a more personal way. It was the confession of the Cardinalate and the personal invitation of the Holy Father. He gave us the ring that has the image of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the two Apostles. And there is also a star, which can be the Virgin Mary, hope of eternal life, Jesus himself who illumines the mind and the path of humanity. One lives very profoundly that step forward, that going further into the responsibility of the Church, of the Gospel, of the service to peace, truth and the salvation of men. I think with much grief and sadness about what is happening in Spain — so many young people, so many people, baptized people, who don’t value the faith or the Church, and it seems that they want to do away with the Church from their midst, as if it was an annoyance, when in reality it is the leaven and salt that heals and enrichers humanity’s development in the whole world.
ZENIT: Is there hope?
Cardinal Sebastián: Yes, there is, because Jesus is the Gospel, he is the truth, and because we men are made to believe in Jesus’ Gospel and not in men’s lies. We are made to find happiness in goodness, truth, service, Jesus’ Beatitudes, and not in the vice that they wish to put before us as if it was true liberty.
ZENIT: Now that it will soon be a year since the election of Francis, how do you evaluate these 12 months?
Cardinal Sebastián: I think that in a short time the Pope is succeeding in dispelling a series of concerns. There was a time in which many people threw ashes on the Church and the Pope is dispelling this and bringing to light the splendor, not of the Church or of ourselves, but of Jesus’ Gospel. I think the Pope has a very singular charism. The Gospel speaks of Martha and Mary as contemplation and action. I think the Pope is both at the same time. He is a very contemplative man who lives very much in communication with God, but who at the same time has an extraordinary capacity to come out of his spiritual profundity and be attuned to people. All the people have the impression that the Pope is addressing them, he says very close words to them, which at the same time are very warm and profound. It seems simple, but it’s very difficult to do. It’s the fruit of a very long life, which the Pope shows spontaneously with any person, but very much from the love of Jesus. People leave with the impression that they have been blessed by Jesus because he is profound and close. In this connection, I believe that the Pope, beyond the criticisms and misunderstanding against the Church, is giving back to us Catholics the joy of being Catholic and the joy of the Council. We have a message which is the truth, which is salvation, and we will endure whatever they wish to throw at us.
ZENIT: Were you able to greet Benedict XVI in the Consistory?
Cardinal Sebastián: Yes. After the imposition of the ring, we were led to give the embrace of peace to all the cardinals, and Benedict XVI was the first. I reminded him that “I am the Archbishop Emeritus of Pamplona, who presented your biography when you were made Doctor Honoris Causa.” “Ah, Pamplona, Pamplona!” said the Pope Emeritus. I have always followed him; I have had great affection for him and great spiritual and intellectual sympathy for all his teaching since he was Professor Ratzinger and then Pope Benedict XVI.
ZENIT: How do you evaluate now Benedict XVI’s pontificate and his decision to renounce
Cardinal Sebastián: All the pontificates are grandiose, especially in this last century, from Pius XII, Paul VI, John XXIII …. All the Popes have been genuine summits and each one has made his own contribution. One of the wonders of the Church is that with very different personalities, they all correspond with Jesus’ Gospel because they bring together the whole truth about man. They all contribute new things which at the same time are old and which are maintained. Benedict XVI’s pontificate was extraordinary, for many reasons, from the doctrinal point of view as well as that of government: the way he addressed the sad subject of pedophilia, the important steps he took in ecumenism … and the extraordinary gesture — and to my mind, admirable and very beneficent for the Church — of his renunciation. He has demonstrated that we are not in the Church out of a desire for domination and power, but for service. It was an example of humility and spiritual fineness for the whole world.
ZENIT: How are you facing this new stage you are beginning as Cardinal?
Cardinal Sebastián: I think that my life, at least externally, won’t change much. I am Emeritus, I am retired and continue to be retired. I have no concrete task or responsibility, other than that of attending meetings to which the Pope calls the cardinals — as I have just done now attending the consistory on the Family – and as long as I am able to attend the General Convocations, and to carry out the missions or tasks that the Pope wishes to entrust to me, if he should entrust one to me, which at present I do not know. I have said to him: “Holy Father thank you very much; count on me for anything you wish that I can do.”
ZENIT: During the Extraordinary Consistory, the cardinals were able to speak about the family. What is your vision of the family in today’s society?
Cardinal Sebastián: The family rests on a concept of man and woman who coincide in love and an appreciation of love, in the light of Jesus’ revelation, an irrevocable, faithful and generous love. Now we live in a culture which exalts individualism, love of self, the provisional, people are very afraid to say “forever.” This is like a dart in the heart of the family and the family is the heart of coexistence. The most profound experience of society that we all have is the family. If the family ceases to be the place of true love, love ceases to exist in the world and it is replaced by egoism. This is a catastrophe. The Church is taking very seriously the defense of the truth of the family, defending the truth of love exactly as Jesus manifested it.[Translation by ZENIT]