Pope Francis has announced his intention to elevate the head of the Vatican’s immigration department to the rank of cardinal.
In his weekly Angelus address in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday, the pope said he will be creating 13 new cardinals in a special consistory this coming October and among them will be Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, who runs the Migrant and Refugee Department of the Vatican’s office for Promoting Integral Human Development.
As veteran Vatican journalist John L. Allen notes, Father Czerny “has been the pope’s right-hand man on migrant and refugee issues” and is recognized by Vatican-watchers as a reward to a man who has understood the pope’s priorities and has made them his own.
Contrary to usual practice, the pope is naming Czerny to the college of cardinals despite the fact that Czerny is not a bishop, but merely a priest. Pope Francis — the first Jesuit pope — has also not been shy about elevating members of his own Jesuit order to positions of prominence and influence in the Church.
Along with climate change and environmental issues, Pope Francis has made the immigration question a central plank in his pontifical platform.
In 2018, the pope published an extensive letter in which he insisted that immigration and the care of migrants should be considered a central issue for Catholics, since Jesus commanded his followers to welcome the stranger.
“We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue,” Francis wrote. “Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions.”
“That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children,” he said.
“Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him?” he asked.
The pontiff defended his continual insistence on the issue of migration by saying it was not just his pet cause but a key teaching of the bible.
“This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad. In today’s world too, we are called to follow the path of spiritual wisdom proposed by the prophet Isaiah to show what is pleasing to God,” he said.
While the pope did not state how this principle is to be translated into political policy, he has made it clear he thinks governments should be more open to welcoming migrants.
For his part, Father Czerny has been a vigorous executor of the pope’s vision of immigration.
Last year, for instance, Czerny accused the Pope’s critics of being “obsessed” with national security and border control, which leads them to be overly fearful of migrants.
Asked in an interview with Italian media whether the Pope isn’t “obsessed” with the immigration question, Father Czerny replied that it isn’t Pope Francis who is obsessive, but rather his critics.
Many would say that the modern “obsession with borders and national security to the detriment of the rights and dignity of refugees and refugees” is excessive, the priest declared. And for many others, “the media predilection for sensational stories that feed xenophobia and isolationism is also excessive,” he added.
For many people, “the way in which politicians create or exaggerate a sense of crisis to obtain short-term advantages is decidedly excessive,” he said.
Citing the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, Czerny said that “the rise of nationalism and xenophobia must be counted among the new dangers for global peace and stability.”
“Far from criticizing the Pope’s attention,” he said, “many good people—and I think they are the overwhelming majority—are indeed deeply grateful for his moral guidance and good example.”
“And I agree with him when he says: ‘Those who fuel fear towards migrants, perhaps for political ends, instead of building peace, sow violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia,’” he said.
The college of cardinals, which will soon include Michael Czerny, are those entrusted with electing the future pope when they gather in conclave.