VATICAN CITY — In an unprecedented blending of papacies past, present and future, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI joined Pope Francis at a ceremony Saturday to formally install new cardinals who will elect the next pontiff.
It was the first time Benedict and Francis have appeared together at a public liturgical ceremony since Benedict retired a year ago, becoming the first pope to step down in more than 600 years. It may signal that after a year of staying largely “hidden to the world,” as Benedict described his future when resigning, the retired pontiff may slowly and occasionally be reintegrated back into the public life of the church.
Benedict entered St. Peter’s Basilica discreetly from a side entrance surrounded by a small entourage and was greeted with applause and tears from the stunned people in the pews. He smiled, waved and took his seat in the front row, off to the side, alongside the red-draped cardinals.
“We are grateful for your presence here among us,” the newly minted Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, told Benedict in his introductory remarks at the start of the service.
In a sign that Benedict still commands the honor and respect owed a pope, each of the 19 new cardinals — after receiving his red hat from Francis at the altar — went directly to Benedict’s seat to greet him before exchanging a sign of peace with the other cardinals.
Saturday’s surprise event was the latest in the evolving reality for the church of having two popes living side by side in the Vatican. Over the summer, Francis and Benedict appeared together in the Vatican gardens for a ceremony to unveil a statue. But Saturday’s event was something else entirely, a liturgical service in St. Peter’s Basilica marking one of the most important things a pope can do: create new cardinals.
Benedict’s decision to appear could also be seen as a blessing of sorts for the 19 men Francis had chosen to join the elite College of Cardinals.
Francis’s choices largely reflected his view that the church must minister to the peripheries and be a place of welcome and mercy, not a closed institution of rules. In addition to a few Vatican bureaucrats, he named like-minded cardinals from some of the poorest places on Earth, including Haiti, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.
Two of the new cardinals hail from Africa, two from Asia and six from Francis’s native Latin America, home to nearly half the world’s Catholics and grossly underrepresented in the church’s hierarchy.