VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis on Sunday exhorted 20 new cardinals to reach out to all those who have been shunned, physically or spiritually, by the church or society.
Celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Basilica with the men he installed as cardinals a day earlier, Francis told them that their mission must be one of "welcoming," and of "rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world."
The red-hatted "princes of the church" elect pontiffs and help the pope to shape and implement policy. Francis told the cardinals "the way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity." He urged them "to go out in search of those who are distant, those on the outskirts."
Elected pope in 2013, Francis has sought to make church hierarchy less judgmental and less dominated by its Vatican-based bureaucratic workings.
His picks for cardinals included some from far-flung place such as Myanmar and Tonga.
One new cardinal, Archbishop John Dew, from New Zealand, recommended in an interview with Vatican Radio that prelates working in the Curia, the Vatican's Rome-based administration, be assigned to the field, in dioceses. There he said, they can "meet people who are very often struggling in life" and obtain "real on-the-ground experience."
Many Catholics will be watching to see if Francis's determination to lead a more merciful church impacts their lives. Divorced Catholics who remarried are hoping Francis will change policy so they will be able to receive Communion instead of being seen as "living in sin." Homosexual Catholics are wondering if his leadership will result in more openness toward them. Church teaching condemns homosexual activity.
Francis told the cardinals the Church must not be a "closed caste." He instructed them to "see the Lord in every excluded person ... even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith."