No church for old men: Cardinals called to be grandfathers, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

Church is not a “gerontocracy” ruled by old men, 80-year-old Pope
Francis said; “we aren’t old men, we are grandfathers.”

“We are grandfathers called to
dream and to give our dreams to the young people of today. They need it so that
from our dreams, they can draw the strength to prophesy and carry out their
task,” the pope told about 50 members of the College of Cardinals.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of
his ordination as a bishop June 27, Pope Francis concelebrated Mass in the
Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

Most of the cardinals present were
officials of the Roman Curia or retired curial officials living in Rome. Many
of them needed assistance up and down the small steps to the altar at Communion

The Mass was celebrated the day
before Pope Francis was to create five new cardinals: Archbishop Jean Zerbo of
Bamako, Mali, 73; Archbishop Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, Spain, 71; Bishop
Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, 67; Bishop Louis-Marie Ling
Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, 73; and Auxiliary Bishop
Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador, El Salvador, 74.

With an average age of 71.6 years,
the new cardinals would lower by two months the average age of the entire
College of Cardinals. However, the new members would increase slightly the
average age of the cardinal electors, the group of those under the age
of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

On the day of the pope’s anniversary
Mass, the average age of the 116 cardinal electors was 71 years, four months
and 15 days; the five new members would raise the average by 11 days.

Before the new members were added,
the entire College of Cardinals had 220 members and an average age of 78 years,
five months and 23 days. The five new members would lower the average to 78
years, three months and one day.

None of the new cardinals, though,
are as old as the patriarch Abraham was when God called him to leave his home
and set out for a new land.

The Bible says Abraham was 75 years
old when he got the call, the pope noted at his anniversary Mass. “He was
more or less our age. He was about to retire.”

At 75, “with the weight of old
age, that old age that brings aches, illness,” Abraham heard God call him
“as if he were a scout,” the pope said. God tells him, “Go.
Look. And hope.”

God says the same thing to the pope
and the cardinals, he said. “He tells us that now is not the time to shut
down our lives or to end our stories.”

Instead, the pope told the
cardinals, God continues to call each of them to keep moving forward and
continues to give each of them a mission.

And every mission, he said, involves
the three imperatives God gave Abraham: “Get up. Look. Hope.”

God tells Abraham, “Get up.
Walk. Don’t stay still. You have a task, a mission, and you must carry it out
walking. Don’t stay seated,” the pope said.

Abraham’s tent is a key symbol in
the story, he said. The only thing Abraham built solidly was an altar “to
adore the one who ordered him to get up and to set out.” His tent was his
mobile shelter.

“Someone who does not like us
would say that we are the gerontocracy
of the church,” the pope told the cardinals. “He doesn’t understand
what he is saying.”

The cardinals are not just old men,
but are grandfathers in the church, the pope said. “If we don’t feel like
we are, we must ask for that grace.”

As grandfathers, the cardinals should
know that their grandchildren are watching them and looking to them, he
continued. They must help young people find meaning in their lives by sharing
their experiences.

For that to happen, the pope said,
the cardinals cannot be focused on “the melancholy of our story,” but
must be dreamers who continue to look to the future with hope, knowing that God
continues to act in human history.

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