December 2, 2016

Connection of teacher and disciple at the heart of friendship of Cardinal Tobin, Pope Francis

Pope Francis greets Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis after presenting him with a pallium during a Mass marking the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on June 29, 2013. The pope presented woolen palliums to 34 archbishops during the liturgy. (CNS file photo)

Pope Francis greets Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis after presenting him with a pallium during a Mass marking the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on June 29, 2013. The pope presented woolen palliums to 34 archbishops during the liturgy. (CNS file photo)

By John Shaughnessy

As Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin headed to Rome to be installed as a cardinal by Pope Francis on Nov. 19, his thoughts naturally returned to the first time he met the pope.

Defining Moments logoThe year was 2005, and the two men were part of a meeting of the Synod of Bishops. For the better part of four weeks, they sat next to each other, talking about the topics of the meeting and getting to know each other through their shared ability to speak Spanish.

At the time, Cardinal Tobin was the superior general of the Redemptorist order while Pope Francis was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires. The synod took place shortly after the conclave of 2005 that elected Benedict XVI as pope—a conclave in which many observers noted that Cardinal Bergoglio likely finished in second place.

“I told the cardinal later on that he was my mother’s candidate [in 2005],” Cardinal Tobin recalled, citing the way his mother appreciated how then-Cardinal Bergoglio lived in a small apartment, took a bus to work and cooked his own meals. “He got quite a laugh out of that.”

From that moment on, whenever their paths have crossed, Pope Francis has always asked Cardinal Tobin about his mother, Marie.

“Like a good pastor, he remembers things,” Cardinal Tobin said. “Whenever I’ve seen him—and even in times he’s written to me—he always says, ‘How’s your mother, and does she still pray for me?’ I assured him she’s a good Catholic, and she prays for the Holy Father.”

The bond between the two men was especially evident when Archbishop Tobin knelt before Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29, 2013, to receive his pallium—a circular band made from lamb’s wool that symbolizes his role as the shepherd of the archdiocese and his communion with the pope.

In that moment, Pope Francis spent considerable time talking with Cardinal Tobin. At one point in their conversation, Pope Francis told him, “I’ve been praying intensely for you, and I hope your mother is praying for me.”

That conversation still touches Cardinal Tobin.

“I was struck when I received the pallium from him,” Cardinal Tobin recalled. “First, we had a conversation and it was clear he knew the circumstances of my life in the last few years. And when he put the pallium on my shoulders, he switched from Italian into Spanish because that was the language of his heart. And he said something personal to me. And it was lovely. And I’ve always been grateful for that, but I never thought it would end with the news [about being named a cardinal.]”

Three months before Pope Francis made that announcement—“on a steamy afternoon at the end of July”—Cardinal Tobin visited the pope in the guest house in Vatican City where he lives, to discuss Church business.

Cardinal Tobin shared some of the details of that meeting during a homily he gave at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Sept. 7.

“I didn’t even have time to put on my game face when I arrived at his floor. The elevator opened, and there he was,” Cardinal Tobin began.

“He invited me into a sort of television room where there were four or five chairs, and he said, ‘Pick whichever one you want. I’ll take whatever is left.’ And we talked, and shared. And I saw a very human side to him. He said twice, ‘I really don’t know why I was elected. I suspect the Italians couldn’t agree on a candidate.’ ”

Then Pope Francis added, “But because I wasn’t looking for this, I accepted it as God’s will. And I believe I’ll have what I need.”

Cardinal Tobin takes heart from that perspective of Pope Francis, viewing the pope’s words as an example for everyone “to stay connected to each other in solidarity, but most importantly to stay connected to Jesus Christ.”

It’s one more bond that connects Pope Francis and Cardinal Tobin, just as they share a vision of the Church that is open and welcoming, just as they are both advocates for immigrants and refugees, just as they both have a natural humility about their own lives and an understanding sense of humanity toward the lives of other people.

“I think it’s the connection of a teacher and his disciple,” Cardinal Tobin said about their relationship. “When I’ve seen him a handful of times over the last four years, I always thank him for teaching me how to be a bishop—knowing not only how he ministered in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, but also what he teaches and how he articulates his expectations for bishops and priests.”

Cardinal Tobin added, “I really do think, in all sincerity, that I’m an unworthy recipient of his affection. I don’t know why. Whatever began in 2005 has continued and deepened.” †

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