A red stream of cardinals filled up St. Peter's to welcome the new members of the College of Cardinals. The solemn silence was broken as the papal nuncio in Syria, Mario Zenari, spoke in the name of the newcomers.
"He has called us from every continent. From the region considered to be the birthplace of Christianity, where the disciples were first called "Christian,” to the young and lively churches. From the Old World, to the New World.”
Pope Francis reflected on a passage of the Gospel in which Jesus, after having chosen the twelve Apostles, did not stay in the mountain but rather descended to the plain to be with close to the people and their tribulations. This, the Pope said, is the cardinals task.
As St. Peter's Basilica was enveloped in an emotional and solemn atmosphere, Pope Francis reminded the new cardinals of a crucial issue in the Gospel: Loving thy neighbor includes loving your enemy.
"In God’s heart there are no enemies. God only has sons and daughters. We are the ones who raise walls, build barriers and label people. God has sons and daughters, precisely so that no one will be turned away. Our Father does not wait for us to be good before he loves the world, he does not wait for us to be a little bit better or more perfect before he loves us; he loves us because he chose to love us, he loves us because he has made us his sons and daughters.”
Pope Francis asked the cardinals to not let themselves be poisoned by a world that suffers from an "epidemic of hostility.”
"How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of hostility and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenceless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference! The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting. We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts.”
After that, the pope called the new cardinals one by one to present them with the ring, the biretta, and to assign them a church in Rome as an honorary title.
When it was Ernest Simoni's turn, the pope rised and kissed his hand, as he did during his visit to Albania, when the two met each other. The Albanian priest is not even a bishop, but his story moved the pope deeply: he is 86 years old and spent almost three decades in labor camps under the communist regime, celebrating Mass in secret.
Among those in attendance there were 11 representatives from the home countries of the new cardinals, including Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago, and one of Obama's closest advisors.
The new cardinals left St. Peter's to the sound of a thunderous applause. At the end of the ceremony, they visited Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI together with Pope Francis.