November 25, 2016

Reflection / Daniel Conway

The bittersweet consistory

Daniel ConwayIt was a short walk, but the beginning of a long journey. Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin walked from Rome’s Hotel Columbus to St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. He was wearing his brand-new bright red cassock. He called it his “frock.” Every few feet, he was stopped by well-wishers and autograph-seekers.

His companions wondered if he would make it to the basilica on time, but the soon-to-be cardinal was not in a hurry. He was serene and at peace. The walk to the Vatican was a short one, but the journey it symbolized will last the rest of his life.

A priest and missionary, former superior general for the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists) and a former Vatican official, in his fourth year as Archbishop of Indianapolis, Joseph William Tobin was “totally shocked” when he learned via social media that Pope Francis had named him as one of 17 new cardinals. There was no advanced warning, no preparation for what nearly everyone agreed was an unprecedented choice of a bishop from a relatively small Midwestern diocese as a member of the College of Cardinals.

Why did Pope Francis choose this particular American archbishop to become one of his advisors and, when necessary, to elect his successor?

The Holy Father has made it clear that he wants the College of Cardinals to more accurately reflect the diverse peoples, cultures, languages and traditions of the universal Church. How would

@JoeTobin—as he is identified on Twitter—contribute to the College of Cardinals?

No one can read the pope’s mind, of course, but from the things he says and the choices he makes, a pattern begins to emerge.

This “pattern” is nothing like a “profile.” There is no fixed set of characteristics, background, style of ministry or even previous Church experience that automatically makes someone “cardinal material.”

Diversity is the opposite of uniformity. Its whole purpose is to reflect, as through a prism, the multi-faceted reality of the Body of Christ.

Not unlike the severe earthquake that struck central Italy in October, only two months after previous earthquakes had caused so much destruction in the region, Cardinal-designate Tobin received a second seismic shock when he learned that he was to leave Indianapolis and become Archbishop of Newark, N.J. He was still struggling to accept the fact that he was to become a cardinal. With the new announcement, he had to face the opportunities and challenges of a different, much larger archdiocese. Now, the celebrations that had been planned in Rome and in Indianapolis to congratulate the new cardinal suddenly became bittersweet occasions of both congratulations and farewell.

Sadness in Indiana was, of course, matched by joy in New Jersey—reminding all who know and love the new cardinal that he is, first and foremost, a missionary disciple who must move beyond his comfort zone and go where he is sent, including to the “peripheries”—which, from a Midwestern perspective, might easily include the four northern New Jersey counties that make up the Archdiocese of Newark.

In fact, Cardinal Tobin’s appointment as Archbishop of Newark sheds some light on his appointment to the College of Cardinals. In his homily for the consistory on Nov. 19 that elevated Joseph W. Tobin, two fellow Americans and 14 others from various parts of the world, Pope Francis emphasized that cardinals must be one with their people. They are not to be “raised up, above the crowd,” but should be humble, accessible servants who work with the pope to share the most profound hopes and dreams of the People of God.

This is the “pattern.” Cardinals must be down-to-earth, easy to connect with and able to share both the pleasures and pain of ordinary people. Simply stated, they must be humble men of God.

@JoeTobin fits this description perfectly. He is a humble man with a great sense of humor. He is a holy man who can laugh, sing and dance at family gatherings.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin will walk with his people. By his words and actions, he will proclaim Gospel joy, and he will share generously God’s mercy and forgiveness which, he freely admits, he has experienced personally because he is a sinner.

The clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Newark are blessed to have @JoeTobin as their new archbishop—just as the Church in central and southern Indiana has been blessed for the past four years.

The Newark archdiocese is a very diverse faith community with Masses celebrated in 20 languages each weekend. Cardinal Tobin’s missionary journeys to more than 70 countries around the world on behalf of the Redemptorists make him uniquely qualified to serve as shepherd to this diverse flock. Similarly, the pastoral experience he has gained while serving the Church in Indiana as archbishop of a 39-county region, has prepared him well for the opportunities and challenges of his new archdiocese.

The long journey that Cardinal Tobin has now begun will involve letting go of what is familiar and comfortable in order to walk with those to whom he has been sent.

Let’s pray that Cardinal Tobin continues on the journey he has now begun with Gospel joy, hope-filled enthusiasm and no small amount of courage.

May he always remain a humble missionary priest who serves God’s people faithfully.

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial board.)

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