Visiting new cardinals with thousands of their friends

VATICAN CITY — The most rambunctious ritual associated with becoming a cardinal is the afternoon reception. The Vatican audience hall and two rooms in the Apostolic Palace — just outside the Sistine Chapel — are open to the public so anyone can greet the churchmen who received their red hats this morning.

While long lines wind around St. Peter’s Square, journalists are let in a bit early to get a couple of quotes before the crowds arrive.

New Zealand Cardinal John Dew of Wellington said Pope Francis’ meditation this morning on the meaning of love and the obligation of charity — particularly for church leaders — was striking. “He is absolutely convinced of what he was saying and was saying it in a way that makes you know you must go back and read it calmly, reflecting” on its applications.

Cardinal Soane Mafi of Tonga, who at 53 is the youngest members of the College of Cardinals, said he hopes “being young, I will have much vitality with which to serve the church.” Still, he said, “I’m 53 — it’s not that young. I have more gray hairs than many of the others.”

Italian reporters pressed in on him, begging for a few words in their language. “I need to learn Italian,” he said. “I didn’t know I would need it. I didn’t know I would be coming to Rome.”

Choosing the first-ever cardinals from Tonga, Myanmar and Cape Verde, he said, “the Holy Father is recognizing the peripheries — the little ones.” He has just over 14,000 Catholics in his diocese.

Having a cardinal “is a big thing in Tonga,” he said, and he hopes “it will widen our sense of the church. But maybe we can give something, too. In our poverty, sharing the little we have is one of our big values.”

This morning, Cardinal Mafi said, “watching the Holy Father there in the midst of all the cardinals, I felt a sense of being called from so far away, but being with the others, I also felt the sense of belonging.”

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangoon, Myanmar, arrived rather late to the reception and some of the pilgrims who came to celebrate with him were not pleased at the media huddle blocking their access. The interviews were short.

In his choices for cardinals, Cardinal Bo said, “the pope has given preference to the peripheries, to every corner of the earth.”

Explaining that 85 percent of his fellow citizens are Buddhist and that only 1.3 percent of Myanmar’s population is Catholic, the cardinal said he appreciated the pope’s remarks this morning about loving what is small and calling “the small to go forward with courage.”

Like most of the pilgrims, I took photos with my phone:

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