The Church of Rome has favored the Church of Washington! His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI announced this week that he will elevate our Archbishop, Donald Wuerl, to the College of Cardinals in a consistory in Rome on November 20. We rejoice!
Likely you saw some of the coverage this week, since the creation of a Cardinal is a transformation significant and mysterious enough to attract the attention of even the secular media. This itself is an indication of the role of a Cardinal in his home country: to speak with elevated authority on behalf of the Church and the Vicar of Christ.
When the Holy Father appointed Archbishop Wuerl to Washington over four years ago, it was an indication that he knew him and had great trust in him, and wished him to have the increased prominence that our capital-city Archdiocese carries. Archbishop Wuerl, who for decades has had special assignments from the Pope, and taken responsibilities in Rome, was given the greater responsibilities of our local Church and its significant citizens.
Now that trust and regard will be made visible in a new and splendid way, as he is given the crimson garb of a Cardinal of the Church. This great honor brings with it also one awesome office, that is, one unique role and responsibility in the life of the Church: to be one of the electors who convene when the Successor to Peter dies and his successor must be chosen.
Our Archbishop also becomes a titular member of the Roman clergy. Next month, when he becomes a Cardinal and dons his red hat, he will be given title of a Roman parish, that is, he will become its nominal pastor. It is thus as a member of the Roman clergy that he is eligible to choose the next Bishop of Rome. Which parish it will be is not announced until the Consistory.
He will also probably receive assignments as a member of congregations or councils in the administration of the Holy See. Congregations and councils are rather like cabinet-level “Departments” in the United States government, but instead of being led by a Secretary (of education, for example) they are headed by a Prefect (congregations) or President (councils). They are called congregations or councils because they are actually a selected group of cardinals, along with a few others – archbishops or experts – who convene to consider specialized aspects of the life of the Church.
There are, for example, Congregations for Education (all seminaries and Catholic universities and schools), Saints (overseeing the vetting and process for beatification and canonization), and Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (that one is pretty obvious), as well as, let’s see, the Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Any Cardinal can be appointed to any of these bodies, and some Cardinals are appointed to a number of them. That would be my guess for our Archbishop, as he is known to be a hard worker.
There will doubtless be a Pilgrimage to Rome for the Consistory organized in coming days by the Archdiocese. I couldn’t wait, and bought my own ticket already (well, somebody has to go!), and I think I even found a place to stay -- that ‘s tough, with all the crowds coming. If you are interested, check with me next week. Because there is no better time to visit than when the Church of Rome is blessing the Church of Washington.