VATICAN CITY. One consequence of Pope Francis choosing new cardinals from the “peripheries” is that friends, family and fans of the newly elevated are just as shocked and surprised as the new cardinals are themselves to have been given the honor.
“I never dreamed this would happen,” Eugene Kurisinkal of Johor Bahru, Malaysia, said, wiping tears from his eyes, pointing to his uncle, Malaysian Cardinal Sebastian Francis of Penang.
“We were at his episcopal ordination” in 2012 and thought that was going to be the high point of ceremonial celebrations of his 71-year-old uncle’s lifelong ministry serving in Malaysia, he told Catholic News Service.
But here he was with about 35 other family members from all over the world, in awe at being able to attend the regal consistory in St. Peter’s Square Sept. 30 and the informal meet-and-greet audiences with new cardinals in the ornately decorated halls of the Apostolic Palace.
The cardinal’s niece, Emilda Corea, laughed about the tales she would hear from her mom, the cardinal’s sister who recently passed away. “He was naughty, and their mom couldn’t run after him, so she’d throw rocks” at the fleeing child.
“We are very close,” she said, cherishing the text messages her uncle sends her.
Eva Kurisinkal, the cardinal’s great niece, spoke proudly of Cardinal Francis’ focus on those who are marginalized and voiceless. He uses his fluency in many languages to form good relationships and promote dialogue with the many communities in Muslim-majority Malaysia, she added.
Hundreds of people stood in line after the consistory to get a chance to climb the marble staircases to the Vatican palace halls, lined with frescoes or early Christian engraved stones, altars and sarcophagi, to greet and congratulate the new cardinals.
Many posed for selfies or received blessings while one unidentified visitor was having the new cardinals sign with a gold marker his boxed “talk to Jesus” action figure.
Baroness Nuala O’Loan, a member of the U.K. House of Lords, was in line with her husband Declan to greet Cardinal Claudio Gugerotti, prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, who also served as papal nuncio to Great Britain from 2020 to 2022.
“He was excellent,” she told CNS, despite the fact his posting was during the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented him from meeting many members of parliament in person. As a result, “he said he knew more squirrels in the park than members of the house,” she smiled.
But that did not prevent the cardinal and Baroness O’Loan from getting lots of work done, including regarding sexual abuse cases, said the baroness, who is also a trustee of the Archdiocese of Westminster and chair of the trustees’ safeguarding committee.
Working with him “was excellent. He is very positive, welcoming and open” with extensive expertise, she said.
New cardinals who belong to religious orders had many of their confreres in line to pay their respects, such as Augustinian Father Giustino Casciano, provincial prior of the order in Italy, who was there to greet U.S.-born Cardinal Robert F. Prevost, a former superior general of the Augustinian religious order.
“It is splendid to have an Augustinian cardinal” for the Dicastery for Bishops, for the church and the world, Father Casciano said beaming.
Salesian Father Giuseppe Costa, co-spokesman for his order, said it was a happy surprise their rector major, Spain-born Cardinal Ángel Fernández Artime, was made a cardinal.
The choice highlights the value of the charism and efforts of Salesians, “especially their work in education at a time when education seems to be in such difficulty,” he told CNS.
Other cardinals were on hand to welcome the new members of the College of Cardinals, including Polish Cardinal Konrad, prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity, who came to greet Poland’s newly-created Cardinal Grzegorz Rys of Lódz.
Cardinal Krajewski, who was born in Lódz, told CNS, “This is an incredible joy, two cardinals from the same city.”
He said the new cardinal had helped advise the pope and it was because of “who he is” the pope chose him for the College of Cardinals, not because of the country or city he represents.
Father Johnson Jada, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Juba, South Sudan, told CNS that it was thanks to Cardinal Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla and his ability to create the right conditions on the ground that Pope Francis was able to visit the county in 2023.
Not only was the pope’s visit “a blessing for the whole country,” the cardinal’s appointment as archbishop of Juba in 2019 “was a blessing for the nation,” he said, because he helped the country overcome some of its problems.
“He is different from all bishops. And we are working hard to realize the peace agreement,” Father Jada said.
More than 100 people from South Sudan attended the consistory including a number of members of the country’s national legislature and other high-level government ministers.