Sunday, January 19, 2014

Scarlet Night in Canada – The Secret of Quebec's "Success"

For those who've been taken aback about the lack of a Stateside presence on the list of cardinals-designate, there's a bit of context you'll want to keep in mind.

Despite having over 30 million more faithful than the US church – and, lest anybody forgot, providing sufficient numerical cover for the enduring Anglo hemorrhage on this side of the border, to boot – Mexico won't be represented at the impending Consistory, either.

For the second-largest Catholic country of all, in this first-ever Latin American pontificate, that elision is an infinitely more glaring one than its Northern counterpart. For starters, no Mexican prelate has received the red hat since 2007, and with the occupant of one of the country's traditional trio of cardinalatial posts (the 63 year-old archbishop of Monterrey, Rogelio Cabrera Lopez) yet to be elevated, half of what had been a four-man electoral bloc aged out of their Conclave privileges in 2013 alone.

To repeat the math: a Catholic population 45 percent larger than the US... yet with less than 20 percent of its electorate – and still, for the fourth Consistory running, 0 Hats.

Just in case, everybody ready for a long wait?

On a brighter angle, meanwhile, with Francis having called one superannuated thinker-bishop he admired before the papacy – 
this intake's lone Spaniard, the Pamplona emeritus Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, now 84 – out of the wilderness and into the Sacred Purple this time, perhaps the same fate awaits another closer to home in a future round....

Nomen est? John Raphael, of course.

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In the meanwhile, Francis' lone American pick north of his "Vice-Pope" was an extraordinarily curious one, and the stats don't easily explain it. Then again, as those who tried cobbling prospective lists in the run-up to Selection Sunday learned the hard way, crunching numbers – and, indeed, even scouring the record-books – in this pontificate won't do you much good.

Yet again, church, recall the time-honored advice of our revered Sisters: these days, you've just gotta "leave some room for the Holy Spirit."

On the Pope's choice of the archbishop of Quebec City, Gerald Lacroix, several theories have been buzzed, ranging from the designate's close ties to his predecessor – the Hatmaker-in-Chief Cardinal Marc Ouellet, whose auxiliary Lacroix fleetingly was – to the US ties born of his New Hampshire boyhood, to this year's 350th anniversary of his cathedral, or the desire of sending a lift to a woefully secularized modern Quebec, where a proposed provincial charter of values has aroused heated protest from a wide array of church leaders over its perceived infringements on religious freedom.

Alas, all of these miss the mark – at least, the seemingly key one which has suddenly made the 56 year-old lumberjack's son the youngest North American to receive the red hat since one Roger Mahony was elevated in 1991. (Shortly before addressing the US' religious superiors of men on the New Evangelization last August in Nashville, the cardinal-designate is shown above left with Francis following a springtime audience.)

Ordained a priest at 31 after several years as a graphic designer, Lacroix spent a decade of his first 12 years in ministry as a missionary in Colombia, beginning there as pastor of a church on a mountaintop, from which the parish encompassed "72 small villages and 13 towns."

Beside being thrust into the task with little command of Spanish, as the cardinal-designate recounted in an earlier interview, "from the center of the parish to one extreme of the territory, it took 18 hours walking on foot, and to the other edge it took ten hours."

"It was almost a diocese," he said. "But it was marvelous."

Underpinning the sense behind the selection is Lacroix's native grasp of two concepts which have repeatedly resonated in Francis' word and witness both before and since his election: the "continental mission" that Cardinal Bergoglio articulated at Aparecida, an impetus now spreading to the global church... and, with it, the understanding – an admittedly rare one among senior North American clerics – of what the Pope's expressed "want" of "a church which is poor and for the poor" means in its fullest light.

But who needs any of that when you've got sex and politics? At least, that seemed to be the thrust of the local media's interest when Lacroix met with them on Monday afternoon. Usually held on Selection Day itself, the delay on the presser came as – in a wild shift from at least a century of precedent – the cardinals-designate themselves received no advance notice of their elevations.

While the Quebecker learned the news on checking to see why his iPhone was suddenly buzzing non-stop just after 6 last Sunday morning, among other examples of how the biglietti found out, Loris Capovilla (arguably the "star" of the coming Consistory) happened to be tuned into the Angelus while tooling away at his desk... Orlando Quevedo heard when a frenzied Chito Tagle tracked him down with congratulations... and Gualtiero Bassetti, having just finished a Confirmation, was suddenly rushed by "one of the women in the parish... out of breath, [who] told me the Pope had just named me a cardinal."

"I almost fainted," the pastor of Perugia – the city's first cardinal since the future Leo XIII – said.

To put it mildly, he wasn't alone in that. And not just in Italy, either.

Back to Quebec, here's the Anglophone piece of Lacroix's presser – which only came after Francis' choice read the Pope's "austerity" order to the assembled....

Speaking of Papa Bergoglio's missive that his new cardinals approach their elevations with "self-abasement and humility" and accordingly shirk ostentatious celebrations, in Quebec's case that'll mean a heavily scaled-back presence at the Consistory rites: an "official delegation" of four – a priest and three laywomen – will represent the diocese, and no public pilgrimage is being offered.

The oldest of seven kids, while a number of the neo-Porporato's family will also be present, in the kind of move that would've been unthinkable for a new cardinal's team not all that long ago, such is the low-key spirit on the broad level that even the primate's formidable communications chief, Jasmin Lemieux-Lefebvre, is staying home.

With a long week down and a full month ahead, more clean-up and ramp-up to come. For now, as the calendar turns back to green, a pastoral clip of the designate from this side of the border, as he closed out a 2010 Mass at his alma mater, Trinity High School in ManchVegas, four months before his appointment to succeed Ouellet as archbishop:

Now, unless you were looking closely, you'll have missed something very interesting there.

Long before silver pectoral crosses became fashionable again with Francis' ascent, Lacroix's seen in the above wearing the unmistakable pewter rendering of the Good Shepherd with the sheep on his shoulders: the very same one that, three years later, the Pope would retain as his own.

Truth be told, for all the sound, fury, ideology and errors you'll find elsewhere, these days aren't terribly hard to figure out. It just takes seeing what's actually there, as opposed to looking for something else.