By Deborah Castellano Lubov
On Saturday, Pope Francis places the red hat on the head of a new Cardinal from the United States, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego.
In a wide-ranging interview with Vatican News ahead of Saturday’s Consistory, Cardinal-designate McElroy reflects on his appointment to the College of Cardinals, as well as on why Pope Francis’ teachings resonate with US Catholics, the current American representation in the College of Cardinals, and the migration phenomenon in his Californian diocese.
He also spoke about his expectations for the Pope’s meeting with Cardinals to discuss the reform of the Roman Curia and the Holy Father’s upcoming Apostolic Visit to Kazakhstan, 12-15 September, to participate in the VII World Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.
Q: How did you learn of your nomination and how, as a Cardinal, do you look forward to counseling the Holy Father?
I learned about it when I was asleep, because we received no prior notification of this. I was asleep and my cell phone was turned off, but it was on the nightstand by my bed. It started making noises because texts started coming in at 3:30 in the morning, which is 12:30 Rome time. I looked at them, and they all said, ‘congratulations.’ I thought, ‘congratulations on what?’ I saw what it was, so I got up. Then people started calling. That’s how I learned. It was through the texts of others at 3:30 in the morning.
Q: As a Cardinal from the United States, how do you see the role of the US Cardinals within the College of Cardinals at this time?
I think there are two major roles we have in the United States, and they’re consonant with the roles of Cardinals in general. One is to constantly be assigned a source of unity with the Holy Father on both the doctrinal and the affective levels. And the second is to, particularly with the United States, focus on the global and universal nature of the Church.
In the United States, we often become focused on looking things through an American lens. Of course, humanity is global, but also the Church itself is global. As a community of faith, we have to constantly fight against that parochialism of a narrow lens. So, I think those two roles could be very, very helpful for the Cardinals in the U.S.
Q: In your opinion, what about Pope Francis’s teachings resonates most in the United States?
I think the pastoral theology of the Pope really touches people, because what it is, is it’s the effort to understand in the concrete how do the doctrines of the Church get translated into the call of people in their real lives.
With all the challenges they face, with all of the problems they encounter, how do they live out the Gospel and Catholic teaching? I think that pastoral dimension is the greatest gift that the Pope is giving by emphasizing that at this point.
Q: You serve the people of San Diego. How has the migration situation in your archdiocese and state shaped you, and how has it impacted your vision of how the Church should approach the question of migrants and refugees?
Well, I say twofold on that. One is when I was in college, I majored in history and immigration history in the United States. For me, in the United States, our whole history is that of immigration and is the presupposition for the growth and establishment of our nation.
I look on it as axiomatic that America should be a place that welcomes immigrants and refugees, and particularly in the Diocese of San Diego, we’re right on the border with Latin America. We’re the northernmost point of Latin America.
We have had in recent years huge groups of refugees and asylees and of immigrants coming in. And part of the work of the Church, particularly Catholic Charities and many other organizations that are women religious are running and parishes are contributing to is to help immigrants, refugees and asylees come into the country, get relocated in the country. Most of them who are from Latin America have family already somewhere in the US, so that we’re able to link them up with the family. They can go live there until their hearings occur.
What we’re finding now is we’re getting more Ukrainian refugees, more Afghan refugees, and they don’t have families there in the same way.
It’s a different challenge to us, but it’s the same challenge. How do we reach out to people suffering and try to alleviate that suffering and help them on their way to a new life?
Q: The Pope called for this meeting of all Cardinals regarding the reform of the Roman Curia. What personally do you believe must be done in these days and in the future?
I think there are two goals I would see for this meeting. One is for the Cardinals to get to know each other better. The second is that on the reform of the Curia, I think the most important element of that, is the emphasis on missionary discipleship and evangelization. That’s why evangelization dicastery [is] raised to such a point of prominence, to emphasize that the whole thrust of the Curia is one of missionary outreach and zeal and action, not of maintenance and stasis. I think that’s an important message.
I think that the meeting with the Cardinals is one way to begin to integrate that idea, that their relationship with the Curia is not simply in service to the Pope, but also is in service to the local churches. And so key to build an ongoing collaborative relationship, and there have been those before, but this is a renewed emphasis on that, I think.
Q: What is your hope for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Kazakhstan?
The Kazakhstan visit is, of course, an ecumenical and interreligious visit. It’s always key for the Church to be continually pointing to the unity of Christians and, of course, the unity of people of all faiths. I’m hopeful that this will be a moment of building for that.
At the same time, the absence of the Patriarch Kirill [of Moscow] is going to be a notable hole in that effort. It points to realities which are really destructive of the unity we seek. I think it’s going to have to be a dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church over time. It’s not going to be able to be mandated. But the primary interlocutors in that discussion, I think, are the Orthodox world themselves with the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Pope’s Agenda