Honduran cardinal gives insider’s view on pope, upcoming events

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, offered teasing bits of insider information about Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment, on what he might say in the U.S. in the fall, and on what it was like to be in the conclave that elected Francis in an April 29 public conversation.

One of Pope Francis’ advisers on the Council of Cardinals, Cardinal Rodriguez told an audience at Georgetown University that he saw his longtime friend, Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, walk into the conclave two years ago talking about his anticipated retirement. The cardinal who would leave the room as Pope Francis was over 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to submit their resignation, and expected his replacement to be named soon.

As soon as he became pope, however, Cardinal Rodriguez’s old friend "started like a young man." The atmosphere in the Sistine Chapel, where the conclave was held, palpably changed as the cardinals selected the Argentine as pope, he said.

"The election of Bergoglio was a true and powerful action of the Holy Spirit," Cardinal Rodriguez said. When the newly elected pope surprised everyone by choosing the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi because he wanted to be "of the poor and for the poor", the cardinal said, "most of us were in tears."

He said a second moment which seemed to him to come from the Holy Spirit was when Pope Francis appeared for the first time at the balcony of the papal apartment and spoke to the gathered crowd in St. Peter’s Square.

The words at the same balcony when Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were elected were beautiful, Cardinal Rodriguez said. "This one began with ‘good evening’ and then asked (the public) for their blessing. There was silence. It was the biggest assembly of prayer that I have ever (witnessed.) This was really extraordinary. And that feeling continues" about this pope.

The cardinal sat for a series of informal questions from moderator John Carr and the audience in the university’s historic Gaston Hall, as part of the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Though and Public Life, which Carr directs.

Speaking off-the cuff in fluent English and joking frequently, Cardinal Rodriguez acknowledged that there are some people who are less than thrilled with Pope Francis. "We live in a very pluralistic world," he said. "But those of us with faith know this is a work of the Holy Spirit."

He hinted that a papal encyclical expected this summer will approach the topic of the environment not primarily from an academic basis but from an ethical one.

"Do not expect statistics, numbers and theories," he said. "He will go directly to the baptized."

Pope Francis has spoken frequently about the "globalization of indifference," Cardinal Rodriguez reminded people, saying that applies also to the state of the environment. "We cannot any longer be indifferent."

He also was asked what Pope Francis might say when he comes to the United States in September. His trip will include stops in Washington, Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families and New York.

He said the pope will approach the U.S. as a pastor. "He needs to plant seeds." Francis will speak "frankly but friendly," he suggested. The global problems of migration will be one topic, he predicted, and another will be human effects of economic issues.

Cardinal Rodriguez is on a hopscotch trip around the United States. Days before he visited Washington, he spoke in San Antonio at Assumption Seminary, among other stops. At the seminary, he urged seminarians to be apostles with the missionary heart of St. Paul.

He also cited the Holy Spirit’s influence there, in prodding the audience not to let themselves be robbed of hope.

"Some want to say that the Catholic Church is disappearing; seminarians are disappearing; priests are disappearing," he said. "No way! Nobody will take hope away from us, because the church is not a human entity; it comes from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not on a holiday or taking a very long siesta."

The Spirit "is always acting, always working," he said.

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