VATICAN CITY — The tasseled felt hats of German horse riders and the brightly colored head wraps of women from the Antilles were just a few of the signs of the universality of the Catholic church on display as pilgrims celebrated the creation of new cardinals.
South Koreans and Canadians, Ivorians and Italians mixed and mingled as they celebrated their countrymen being elevated to the College of Cardinals during an informal gathering in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall this afternoon.
“This is pure, unadulterated joy for me to see my uncle made a cardinal,” said Rosemarie O’Mard, who left behind snow and ice storms in Queens to come to Rome to see Cardinal Kelvin Felix of Castries, St. Lucia in the Antilles, receive the red biretta.
“But to me he’s my Uncle Kelvin,” she told Catholic News Service, recalling how she grew up with the new cardinal because his father — her grandfather — raised her until she was 13.
In this extended family, her aunts and uncles were like her mothers and fathers, she said. Her and her family’s love for her uncle means “you want him all to yourself, he’s so loving, he has that twinkle in his eye.”
“But he’s not ours, he’s theirs as he’s become a father to so many,” she said, pointing to the large group of smiling and laughing priests and laypeople who gathered for photographs around the 81-year-old retired archbishop.
A group of women with colorful dress and matching head wraps sang, “We love you, we love you, we love you, yes we do,” to the tune of “She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain.”
“For him, this is not a job. He loves these people and look how amazing, how they love him back,” O’Mard said. She said Cardinal Felix is a true shepherd “and I think Pope Francis saw this in him, his strength and joy, how he lifts the rest of us up.”
Cardinal Felix said that although he was over 80 and could never vote in a conclave, he was ready to serve the church as a cardinal in whatever way the pope wanted.
“The role of the cardinal is not only to elect a pope,” he said, “there is much more to it than that. He is to assist the Holy Father in administering the whole church, all over the world. So the Holy Father can assign you any task that he feels he would like you to do for him.”
Myrna Lubin, who flew in from London to see the first cardinal to be named from the Antilles bishops’ conference, said, “it’s great because he’s our first cardinal. We hadn’t thought of having one yet,” she laughed.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said what struck him most about the morning ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica when the pope created 19 new cardinals from 15 different countries “was the breadth of differences among the cardinals, reflecting the universality of the church.”
“It was very moving and a real surprise,” the 68-year-old English cardinal said, when retired Pope Benedict joined the ceremony in the basilica, offering each cardinal “the opportunity to greet him.”
Cardinal Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, Haiti, said seeing the retired pope with Pope Francis on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, expressed “the unity of the church — that everyone is a servant in the church and is here to serve.”
The 55-year-old Haitian cardinal said his new role is still “a call from God” to help the church, the people of Haiti and the pope “and share with him his responsibility of pastor of the church.”
Philippine Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, 74, that he had “a great feeling of inadequacy” about becoming a cardinal. He said hearing “the old cardinals speak for two days” at the meetings with the pope before the consistory made him think, “That’s the product of accumulated wisdom, pastoral experience and knowledge — what can I contribute?”
Cardinal Quevedo said he hoped he could offer the College of Cardinals lessons from his work with the poor, with basic Christian communities, dialogue with the Muslims and his work with indigenous communities. “Maybe that is what I have to contribute.”
Before going to the consistory, he said, he and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila celebrated Mass at the Pontifical Filipino College. “I was overwhelmed with some feelings,” he said, “and Cardinal Tagle made it worse, because he and I started crying on each other’s shoulders.”
Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec, 56, walked into the Vatican audience hall with his mother, Brigitte, on one side and his father, Raymond, on the other.
As for his bright red robes, he said they reflected what Pope Francis had said at the consistory about how following Jesus was not always comfortable, “it requires courage and it means taking up the cross — that’s about as red as it gets.”
Across St. Peter’s Square, hundreds more pilgrims circulated the ornately frescoed halls of the apostolic palace as they greeted new cardinals who reside in Rome as senior officials at the Vatican.
One group of German pilgrims, wearing tasseled felt hats, woolen jackets, riding pants and knee-high leather boots, stood for hours to get in line to see their former bishop of Regensburg, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Franz Grasse said about 30 riders came from the Bavarian region to pay their respects to one of their former horsemen-turned-cardinal.
Hundreds of men make an annual Pentecost pilgrimage on horseback from Bad Koetzting to a chapel four miles away and back, Grasse said. The future Cardinal Muller encouraged the local custom, he said, and rode with the pilgrims every year for the decade he led the diocese.
“It’s a great feeling to see him as a cardinal,” Grasse said. “He’s one of us!”