The Malta Independent 18 October 2021, Monday

Watch: ‘Call me Don Mario’ – Cardinal-elect wants to retain sense of simplicity

Karl Azzopardi Friday, 30 October 2020, 07:11 Last update: about 13 months ago

“I feel blessed,” Cardinal-elect Mario Grech told The Malta Independent, adding that he understands the importance of the role he has been given but wants to keep his sense of simplicity.

“When I am addressed as ‘Your Eminence’ at the Vatican I always tell them to call me Don Mario,” he said.

The Vatican last Sunday announced that Grech, who a few weeks ago was appointed secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, will be one of 13 cardinals who will be created by Pope Francis in a ceremony to be held on 28 November.

Grech will be the third Maltese to be elevated to the rank of cardinal.

The Malta Independent spoke to him about his first reactions, what he will focus on when he becomes a cardinal and the type of relationship that he will be sharing with the Pope.

How did you find out and what was your first reaction?

I was surprised! It was a Sunday, I was having a coffee with a friend and as I was headed home, someone called me and told me that Pope Francis has made me Cardinal. I did not believe him at first but then more messages started coming in, so I went to check for myself and it turned out to be true.

 

Pope Francis has entrusted you with the responsibility of Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. What are your main tasks and will you be retaining the role?

The office I hold is one that puts me in a close relationship with the episcopate of the whole world, which could be the reason why Pope Francis chose me as a Cardinal.

Pope Francis' wish is for the concept of synodality to be spread among all of God's people, not just bishops, so that everyone can work together to decipher what God wants from the church of today.

This is the two-fold challenge for me as I have to organise the Synod while also think of how I can help in realising this synodal process. I will still retain the position of secretary general of the Synod of Bishops.

 

Your role as Secretary General for the Synod of Bishops is quite a huge shift from your responsibility as Bishop of Gozo, yet there surely are some similarities. What would they be?

I cannot gauge the spectrum that I found myself in. However, I think that, within my ministry, I have a duty to accompany others. This means that I have to create an environment that creates more opportunities for dialogue so that we can become more unified are reach conclusions together.

The basis of everything is the human being, whoever they are or what they believe in, and I think this is what is being asked from me; to help people find a network and feel connected.

 

Seems like you would like to bring about a sense of harmony …

Harmony, yes, which is different from uniformity. As Bishop Nikol Cauchi used to tell me, what works for Gozo might not work for Malta, and vice-versa. The same applies for the rest of the world. Not everyone has to wear the same colour; however, moving forward, and in the right direction preferably, is something which everyone wishes for.

 

Your responsibility as cardinal makes you one of the closest collaborators of Pope Francis. How are you living this experience?

I feel that I am graced because to be so close to this giant, with regards to humanity and spirituality – it is sincerely a blessing.

The Holy See is divided in congregations, each having its own Head or Prefect. In the congregation in which I am Secretary General, the Pope himself is the Prefect, which means that we work very closely together and have shared multiple meetings.

These meetings are simple, in the sense that I feel at ease and able to speak liberally with the Pope.

 

What are the aspects and dimensions of Pope Francis’ personality that somehow leave an impact and resonate with you?

He is quite the joker. He shares tomfooleries he was involved in and recounts what his grandma used to tell him. This is the air he brings to the meetings we have.

Apart from this easy-going attitude, I admire the difficulty Pope Francis finds in condemning someone as he always looks for the best in a person.

Sometimes I question how he is able to find a redeeming feature in some individuals, to the point that I think he is not being objective. Yet, he does it with the intention of saving humanity.

 

Pope Francis is quite insistent on the synodal process. What exactly are the main characteristics of this journey? How do you explain it in simple terms to a wider audience who might not be so familiar with this language?

Rather than taking a more top to bottom approach, my aim, as well as the Church’s, is to see what challenges people face and then look towards God for an answer.

This entails a process of listening which is something that Pope Francis strongly believes in as he has always appealed for us to learn how to listen to one another and God Himself. These two dimensions of listening then come together in the approach or decisions that one takes towards their individual or collective life.

Up until recently, the Synod consisted only of bishops, but the Pope wanted to expand this circle with the public. In fact, two Synods ago, the Pope introduced a questionnaire which the public can participate in. This, in turn, adds to this process of listening.

 

During your pastoral ministry you have frequently insisted that faith asks for mature Christians. How are you going to communicate this pastoral conviction in your new mission especially to the youths?

Adults are more of a challenge than the younger generation. One does not need to make an effort to communicate with the young apart from making use of their slang. On the other hand, adults have established, unwavering ideas which may take a miracle to change.

Maturity is a lifelong process and fears that adults may think they have arrived at their destination because of the experience they have under their belt. However, we must always keep our minds open, just like the younger generations.

 

Recently the Pope made a bold statement about same-sex civil unions. This created uproar especially in certain conservative circles. What’s your opinion on this?

Pope Francis's approach towards human beings has always been clear, even with this category of people, and nothing has changed.

This is not a matter of opinion. I was actually surprised that people were surprised by what the Pope said which made me question if there were people who intended to create this controversy.

The biggest disservice one can do is take a sentence out of its context, not just its immediate context but the overall situation. I think that if what the Pope said was taken in its context one will realise that, in reality, he was speaking about the gospel.

 

You were the first person mentioned on Sunday by Pope Francis when he mentioned the new 13 Cardinals. Does this mean that you will be delivering the speech on behalf of the newly elected Cardinals in the consistory? If yes, what will be the message that you will be conveying?

No one has officially told me anything about this yet, but it is seemingly the usual procedure. However, I am still thinking and praying about what I will speak about.

 

With your new appointment as Cardinal you will now be part of the College of Cardinals, amongst other things this is the group of clerics responsible in electing the new Pope eventually. How do you envisage this experience to be?

I think that that is a big chunk of the work as it is by no means a decision to joke about. The future relies on it and I am sure I will have to account for this decision with God.

One can never know when this decision has to be taken but I also think that it is not so difficult to make when keeping the Church's vision in mind. The one difficulty is choosing who will be the candidate that will carry out this vision.

 

Finally, there is a saying which says something similar to this: “you can leave Gozo, but Gozo never leaves you”. As a Cardinal, what are those Gozitan traits that are you going to carry with you and cherish in your heart?

Simplicity. I must not forget that I come from a simple family and a simple island. And I hope that in this environment and with the expectations of those around me I am able to maintain this simple mentality.

When I am addressed as ‘Your Eminence’ at the Vatican I always them to call me Don Mario. I fear that our environment might interfere with this simplicity.

I will always carry level of mischievousness and shrewdness; “as the saying goes; ‘burn the good Gozitan, but extract what you can from the bad one’ (Ghawdxi tajjeb aharqu, Ghawdxi hazin, nissel minnu).”

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