When the pope last week surprisingly announced that he planned to nominate 13 new cardinals months ahead of an anticipated consistory, three names on the list jumped out at me.
First, British Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, a popular figure among many of my friends and colleagues in Rome, who has served as both the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the nuncio to Egypt and the League of Arab States. His dovish approach to Islam has not been welcome by some in certain quarters of the church in recent years and so Francis’ choice to call him to this service speaks emphatically to the pope’s willingness to dialogue respectfully with other traditions. Second, Czech-Canadian Jesuit Michael Czerny, who has been one of Francis’ most ardent collaborators when it comes to immigration concerns, and their natural relationship to ecological devastation around the globe. And lastly, Bologna Archbishop Matteo Zuppi, who was auxiliary bishop for the historical center of Rome when I lived and taught there, famously riding around town on his bicycle, even on the way to important Masses and events.
Archbishop Zuppi is closely connected with the community of Sant’Egidio, where I take my students to work, pray, eat and learn each June when we visit. (This past year we cleaned and prepared medical supplies in their free pharmacy for Rome’s most marginalized, ate in their trattoria run by those with special needs to emphasize the dignity of labor for all people, and visited their language school for migrants newly arrived to Italy, often by way of treacherous land and sea routes from elsewhere around the Mediterranean world — like Syria, Libya, and beyond). Zuppi was instrumental in the community’s peace-brokering efforts in Mozambique, where the Holy Father coincidentally is visiting this week.
The southeastern African country was ruled by colonist Europeans (which led to the spread of Portuguese language and customs there) until 1975. Civil wars devastated the region in the following decades. Though other areas of Africa are growing at a faster rate, Catholics are increasing in numbers in the country today. They continue to import priests from Brazil, Nigeria and Zimbabwe to minister to the thriving community, though the seminaries there are proliferating. Protestants, Muslims and animist religious also make up substantial portions of the population.
I reached out to my good friend (we often address one another as “fratello,” Italian for brother) Isaias Marcano, a Mozambique native who is completing his postgraduate studies in Rome. He told me that the visit of the Holy Father to his homeland is for him an unbelievable blessing. “As most people know, Mozambique is a poor country — although the people never gave up, they kept fighting hard for a good future. So the presence of Pope Francis in Mozambique is a big mission, and a calling for everyone to grow in awareness. He continues working for the hope of everyone there and around the world, spreading reconciliation and calling for a stable peace.”
The pope continues to teach the world, not only in his undoubtedly important “texts” but also in his call for missionary disciple leaders and his far-flung travels. The world is in need of moral voices who confidently embody what a robust faith can look like in a pluralistic and divided world. Whether spending their lives in the college of cardinals or the stunning beauties of coastal Mozambique, the hope is that the recipients of these vocations can both aid the Servant of the Servants of God in this monumental charge.
Originally from Collingswood, Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D. teaches at Loyola University, Chicago.