Thursday, December 07, 2017

Habemus POPEQUAKE – In Stunning Twin Shot, Francis Flips Mexico. And Paris.

(Updated with analysis/context.)

As appointment days go, folks, This. Is. Simply. Beyond.

Filling two of global Catholicism's foremost posts in one fell swoop, even before Roman Noon hit this Thursday, the Italian desk of Vatican Radio published the Pope's twin selections of Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, 67 – until now archbishop of suburban Tlalnepantla, already a former president of both the Mexican bishops and the continental mega-conference CELAM – as archbishop of Mexico City: with some 8 million members, the world's largest diocese...

...and, together with it, Francis' choice of Bishop Michel Aupetit of Nanterre, 66 – a physician, bioethicist and med-school professor for two decades, ordained a priest at 44 – as archbishop of Paris: the 1.3 million-member fold that's both the largest and most prominent charge in the land long known as the church's "eldest daughter."

In terms of dates and places, the CVs of both picks were released by the Vatican in the English edition of today's Bollettino.

The duo respectively succeed Cardinals Norberto Rivera and Andre Vingt-Trois, both of whom reached the retirement age of 75 just within the last six months. In the latter case, the departing Paris prelate – who'll be succeeded by his second-in-command from 2006-13 – marked his birthday on November 7th, while the retirement of Rivera (who turned 75 last June) ends a landmark, yet frequently controversial 22-year run atop the Mexican church, a reign with which the first American Pope memorably made his frustration clear on his visit to it in early 2016.

Together with Francis' June pick of Auxiliary Bishop Mario Delpini (above) as archbishop of Milan – his hometown and Italy's marquee diocese – today's moves round out 2017's foreseen extraordinary round of placements into the church's top dozen or so diocesan seats around the world, with a couple more impending shifts still in the offing.

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In the case of Aguiar, that sound you hear is the new Cardinal-Primate vaulting to the front of the Papabile file... albeit to a lesser degree than if a Latin American weren't already on Peter's Chair.

Nonetheless, the Scripture scholar and veteran seminary rector has long been the frontrunner for the capital of Mexico, whose 90 million Catholics nationwide form the church's second-largest bloc after Brazil, even as church-state issues there remain an equally-sized challenge.

Hailing the pick as a "renaissance man," a Whispers op close to both Francis and Aguiar called the Pope's choice "extremely smart and very close to the people," noting the incoming Primate's ability to make headway in the public realm to a degree that eluded the polarizing Rivera, whose long tenure became mired in moral and financial scandals within the massive archdiocese – and who, unlike his successor, was never elected by the Mexican bishops as their president despite occupying the hierarchy's biggest post (a twin role which, in Latin America, is normally a given).

Indeed, arguably more than anything, the choice of Aguiar serves to again underscore Papa Bergoglio's emphasis on the role – and trust in the judgment – of episcopal conferences.

Having known the younger prelate for the better part of two decades – from when Aguiar was overseeing the CELAM offices as its secretary-general – like so much else with the now-Francis, the bond between the duo was ostensibly sealed at Aparecida in 2007. At the once-a-generation meeting of the Latin American bishops, this time in Brazil's patronal shrine, then-Cardinal Bergoglio oversaw the drafting of the missionary "charter" for the region that's home to a plurality of the Catholic world, while after the fact, the rising Mexican would carry the torch for the Aparecida call as the continental body's vice-president, then president.

Along the way, in 2009 Benedict XVI gave Aguiar the archbishopric of Tlalnepantla, all of 15 miles north of Mexico City. But once the papacy switched hands, to signal his impatience with the state of things down the road, Francis would replicate his biggest US ground-shift last year, placing an unprecedented red hat at the "periphery" of the capital itself.

Now, his protege's journey to El Zócalo – Mexico City's central square, bordered by the gargantuan Cathedral (above) to one side and the government's historic seat to the other – is complete. The choice arrives as ready for global prime-time as anyone could be, but come Aguilar's installation in February, the task that awaits is widely seen as the need for a thorough "cleanup" at home. (Much as it didn't surprise the CDMX crowd, Rivera marked the announcement of his resignation by leaving the country; said to be in Rome today, the cardinal shared the news in a letter released by the archdiocese.)

Long story short, and for the millionth time, the essence of this most significant of moves marks just another return to Evangelii Gaudium – merely an adaptation of Aparecida for the global fold, the "blueprint" of Francis' church in more ways than most have begun to understand... even as the fifth anniversary of this pontificate approaches in March.

And on a day when the appointment of the archbishop of Paris is merely the second biggest thing going, the shape of the moment only goes to prove one of Francis' core principles in his charter text: namely, "Reality is bigger than ideas."