Robert W. McElroy became the first cardinal of San Diego Saturday, receiving his scarlet skullcap, ring and silk hat as he knelt before Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
McElroy, 68, was inducted along with 19 cardinals from around the world in a ceremony, known as a consistory, that was live streamed from 7-8 a.m. San Diego time (4-6 p.m. Rome time).
Among those in attendance was Bishop John Dolan, former auxiliary bishop of San Diego until he assumed duties of bishop of Phoenix this month.
McElroy had a brief discussion with the pope when he came forward to receive his ring and biretta. McElroy told NBC San Diego that Francis asked about his health in light of his recent heart surgery. McElroy told the pope he was doing well.
After the consistory, the new cardinals met with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Afterwards, the cardinals were scheduled to greet the faithful of Rome and those visiting from their home countries for the customary post-Consistory congratulatory visits, according to Vatican News.
On Sunday, McElroy will celebrate his first Mass (live streamed) as a cardinal. On Monday and Tuesday, he will join the College of Cardinals for an in-depth study of Praedicate Evangelium regarding on the Roman Curia, and Tuesday evening they will celebrate Mass together with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica (live streamed).
The pope chose men from five continents who mostly agree with his vision of a more progressive and inclusive Roman Catholic Church and influencing their choice of his eventual successor.
Francis, 85, presided , telling the new cardinals to show concern for ordinary people despite the high rank that will bring them into contact with the powerful of the earth.
The ceremony marked the eight time Francis has put his stamp on the Church’s future with a new intake of cardinals who will serve as his top advisors and administrators at the Vatican and around the globe.
The College of Cardinals now consists of 226 cardinals, including 132 electors and 94 non-electors. 52 cardinals were created by John Paul II of whom 11 are electors; 64 created by Benedict XVI of whom 38 are electors; and 112 created by Francis of whom 83 are electors, according to Vatican News.
Across the world they are distributed as: 106 in Europe, of whom 54 are electors; 60 in the Americas, of whom 38 are electors; 30 in Asia, of whom 20 are electors; 27 in Africa, of whom 17 are electors; and 5 cardinals in Oceania, of whom 3 are electors, according to Vatican News.
Those under 80 — 16 among the 20 newcomers — can enter a conclave to elect a new pope from among themselves after he dies or resigns. Cardinals over the age of 80 are not electors.
Among the significant appointment from the richer countries is that of McElroy, who is seen as a progressive. By giving San Diego its first cardinal, Francis bypassed conservative archbishops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
McElroy has been an outspoken ally of Francis’ pastoral approach to social issues, such as protection of the environment and a more welcoming approach to gay Catholics.
He also has opposed conservative U.S. clergymen who want to ban Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, from receiving communion because of their support of abortion rights.
Four new countries will be granted a new cardinal: Mongolia, Paraguay, Singapore and East Timor.
Besides the United States, the the new cardinals come from Britain, South Korea, Spain, France, Nigeria, Brazil, Italy, Ghana and Colombia.
One bishop to be named cardinal, Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr, 62, of Wa, Ghana, became ill after arriving in Rome and was unable to attend the ceremony.
“A Cardinal loves the Church, always with that same spiritual fire, whether dealing with great questions or handling everyday problems, with the powerful of this world or those ordinary people who are great in God’s eyes,” Francis said.
Sitting before the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis asked them to remember “poor families, migrant and homeless persons.”
He read his homily in a strong voice, often going off script, even to joke about a Rome priest who was so close to his parishioners that he knew not only all their names, but also the names of their dogs.
Francis, elected as pope in 2013, has now chosen 83 of the 132 cardinal electors, or about 63%.
With each consistory, Francis has continued what one diplomat has called a “tilt towards Asia,” increasing the likelihood that the next pope could be from the region that is a growing economic and political powerhouse.
Resignation Not at Hand
The 85-year-old pontiff told Reuters in an interview last month that if he does resign in the future for health reasons — instead of dying in office — he has no plans to do so anytime soon. This means he could name even more cardinals as soon as next year.
After reading his homily, Francis gave them each their ring and red hat, the color of which, along with their vestments, is to remind them that they should be willing to shed their blood for the faith.
Since his election as the first Latin American pope, Francis’ has often broken the mould used by his predecessors in picking cardinals. Often he has preferred men from developing nations and smaller cities, rather than from major capitals where having a cardinal used to be considered automatic.
Archbishop Leonardo Steiner of Manaus, Brazil, becomes the first cardinal from the Amazon region, underscoring Francis’ concern for indigenous people and the environment.
Another unexpected new cardinal elector is Archbishop Giorgio Marengo, an Italian who is the Catholic Church’s administrator in Mongolia. At 48, he is the youngest of the new cardinal electors.
Mongolia has fewer than 1,500 Catholics but is strategically significant because it borders with China, where the Vatican is trying to improve the situation for Catholics.
“The Holy Father cares for the Church wherever it is in the world. (We) feel that a tiny community is as important as a large community,” he told Reuters before the ceremony.
Reuters contributed to this report.