February 28, 2014

Reflection / Daniel Conway

Reflections on the consistory that I was unable to attend

I was all packed and ready to go. I arrived at the airport two hours ahead of time, and presented my passport to the agent at the Delta counter. I was booked on a flight to Rome for a few days of rest and relaxation, and to attend the consistory where Pope Francis would create 19 new cardinals on Feb. 22.

“I’m afraid we have a problem,” the ticket agent said. “Your passport expires [on] April 13.”

“But that’s seven weeks from now,” I answered. “I’ll be back long before then.”

“I’m sorry, but the Department of State has issued a new regulation,” she said. ‘All passports must be renewed within 90 days of foreign travel. You don’t qualify.”

“I’ve never heard of this rule,” I protested. “Is there anything I can do?”

“You can apply for an expedited passport, but that will take two days and cost $500,” she said. “I’m afraid there are no other options.”

Disappointment doesn’t even come close to describing my emotions at that moment. I wanted to scream at someone.

But it wasn’t the agent’s fault, although I was mad at Delta Airlines for not telling me ahead of time that a not-yet expired passport was not good enough. I thought about writing an angry letter to the Secretary of State, but what good would that do?

In the end, there was only one thing I could do: Let go. Let go of my anger and disappointment, and find some other way to relax for a few days and to share in the celebration of the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

I find that when I can surrender, I can find peace. In the grand scheme of things, missing a trip to Rome is not a big deal. I have been blessed to visit Rome many times. I have no cause to be anything but grateful.

Instead of a week in Rome, I visited friends here in the U.S., and I spent time with my family. I also took time to begin writing a new book. I should be—and am—very grateful for these gifts.

Like millions of others, I participated in the consistory from afar. Catholic News Service, the agency sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, does an excellent job of capturing occasions such as these. As a result, Catholic newspapers like The Criterion have instantaneous coverage with photos and a video that help to share the experience.

Still, I would like to have been there—in St. Peter’s Basilica—to experience the joy-filled surprise when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI walked quietly to the front row wearing a long white coat and carrying a cane. It would have been wonderful to see the ushers trying—unsuccessfully—to prevent the already existing cardinals from walking over to the retired pope to greet him. And what a joy it would have been to see the two popes together, warmly embracing, with radiant smiles.

Pope Benedict would be the first to say that the consistory was not about him, and I know for certain that he was embarrassed by all the fuss made over him before the ceremony began.

But it’s been more than 600 years since we had a retired pope to fuss over, and it’s fitting that a celebration of the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter would pay tribute to him for at least a moment!

Pope Francis’ first “class” of cardinals reflects, in remarkable ways, the diversity of the Church. The man who came “from the farthest corners of the earth” to serve as the Bishop of Rome has appointed 19 new cardinals and admonished them “to follow Christ more closely, to build up the unity of the Church, and to proclaim the Gospel more courageously.” The pope who strives to serve with humility and simplicity expects no less from the cardinals who assist him as pastor of the universal Church.

Courage, compassion and communion were themes especially emphasized by the Holy Father as he challenged the new cardinals to join him in being “peacemakers, building peace by our actions, hopes and prayers.”

I didn’t get to experience the consistory firsthand, but I shared in the joy of popes Francis and Benedict, of the new cardinals with their families, friends and local Churches, and of the whole Church.

May these new cardinals truly serve the Church as responsible stewards—without rivalry, jealousy or ideologies, as men of courage, compassion and communion, peacemakers who help build up the Body of Christ!

(Daniel Conway, who serves as senior vice president for planning, marketing, and advancement at Marian University in Indianapolis, is a member of The Criterion’s editorial board.)

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