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Another defining chapter added to friendship between pope, new cardinal

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Another defining chapter added to friendship between pope, new cardinal

(CNS) — As Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin headed to Rome for his Nov. 19 installation
into the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis, he naturally thought again of
all the ways his life has changed in the past six weeks.

He also
thought of how those life-changing moments have been shaped by the relationship
he has formed during the past 11 years with the pope.

After all,
it was Pope Francis who announced Oct. 9 that Archbishop Tobin would be one
of the church’s 17 new cardinals. And 13 days later, Cardinal-designate Tobin
learned that Pope Francis was reassigning him from the Archdiocese of
Indianapolis to lead the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey — a move that
became official on Nov. 7.

Returning to
Italy for his elevation as a cardinal in St. Peter’s Basilica at the
Vatican, Cardinal-designate Tobin is also returning to the place he first met
Pope Francis.

The year was
2005, and the two men were participants in a meeting of the Synod of Bishops.
For the better part of four weeks, they sat next to each other, talking about
the issues and getting to know each other through their shared ability to speak

At the time,
Cardinal-designate Tobin was the superior general of the Redemptorist order
while Pope Francis was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos
Aires. The synod meeting took place shortly after the conclave of 2005 that
elected Benedict XVI as pope — a conclave in which many observers noted that
Cardinal Bergoglio likely finished in second place.

“I told the
cardinal later on that he was my mother’s candidate” in 2005,
Cardinal-designate Tobin said in an interview with The Criterion, newspaper of
the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, citing the way his mother appreciated how
then-Cardinal Bergoglio lived in a small apartment, took a bus to work and
cooked his own meals. “He got quite a laugh out of that.”

From that
moment on, whenever their paths have crossed, Pope Francis has always asked
Cardinal-designate Tobin about his mother, Marie.

“Like a good
pastor, he remembers things,” Cardinal-designate Tobin said. “Whenever I’ve
seen him — and even in times he’s written to me — he always says, ‘How’s your
mother, and does she still pray for me?’ I assured him she’s a good Catholic,
and she prays for the Holy Father.”

The bond
between the two men was especially evident when Cardinal-designate Tobin knelt
before Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica June 29, 2013, to receive his
pallium as the archbishop of Indianapolis. A pallium is a circular band made
from lamb’s wool that symbolizes an archbishop’s role as the shepherd of the
archdiocese and his communion with the pope.

In that
moment, Pope Francis spent considerable time talking with Cardinal-designate
Tobin. At one point in their conversation, Pope Francis told him, “I’ve been
praying intensely for you, and I hope your mother is praying for me.”

conversation still touches Cardinal-designate Tobin.

“I was
struck when I received the pallium from him,” he recalled. “First, we had a
conversation and … when he put the pallium on my shoulders, he switched from
Italian into Spanish because that was the language of his heart. And he said
something personal to me. And it was lovely. And I’ve always been grateful for
that, but I never thought it would end with the news” about being named a

Three months
before Pope Francis made that October announcement about the new cardinals,
Cardinal-designate Tobin had visited the pope in July, in the guesthouse in
Vatican City where the pope lives, to discuss church business.

Tobin shared some of the details of that meeting during a Sept. 7 homily he
gave at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

“I didn’t
even have time to put on my game face when I arrived at his floor. The elevator
opened, and there he was,” Cardinal-designate Tobin began.

“He invited
me into a sort of television room where there were four or five chairs, and he
said, ‘Pick whichever one you want. I’ll take whatever is left.’ And we talked,
and shared. And I saw a very human side to him. He said twice, ‘I really don’t
know why I was elected. I suspect the Italians couldn’t agree on a candidate.'”

Then Pope
Francis added, “But because I wasn’t looking for this, I accepted it as God’s
will. And I believe I’ll have what I need.”

Tobin has tried to take heart from that perspective as he deals with the
life-changing moments of the past six weeks.

He views the
pope’s words as an example for everyone — and for himself — to stay connected
to each other in solidarity, but most importantly to stay connected to Jesus

It’s one
more bond that connects Pope Francis and Cardinal-designate Tobin, just as they
share a vision of the church that is open and welcoming, just as they are both
advocates for immigrants and refugees, just as they both have a natural
humility about their own lives and an understanding sense of humanity toward
the lives of other people.

“I think
it’s the connection of a teacher and his disciple,” Cardinal-designate Tobin
has said about their relationship. “When I’ve seen him a handful of times over
the last four years, I always thank him for teaching me how to be a bishop — knowing
not only how he ministered in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, but also what he
teaches and how he articulates his expectations for bishops and priests.”

The latest
chapter in their relationship will unfold when Pope Francis installs him as a

“I really do
think, in all sincerity, that I’m an unworthy recipient of his affection,”
Cardinal-designate Tobin has said. “I don’t know why. Whatever began in 2005
has continued and deepened.”

– – –

Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.


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