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New Maronite and Syro-Malankara Cardinals Attend Synod

Cardinal-designate Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Syro-Malankara archbishop of Trivandrum, India, smiles during an interview after being named a cardinal at the Vatican 24 Oct. Pope Benedict XVI surprised pilgrims at his 24 Oct. general audience by announ cing he would create six new cardinals at 24 Nov. consistory. (Photo: CNS/Paul Haring) 

25 Oct 2012 – By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Four of the six new cardinals announced by Pope Benedict XVI Oct. 24 were participating in the world Synod of Bishops at the Vatican and had to keep their impending appointments secret as they participated in the synod’s small-group work that morning.

The appointment of new cardinals was not announced to synod members, so those who did not have smartphones or tablets or a friend with one found out only during the synod’s lunch break.

When they returned to the synod hall in the afternoon — four hours after the announcement — the synod hall’s foyer turned into a receiving line and photo studio. Synod members congratulated the cardinals- designate, and the cardinals-designate congratulated one another.

The four synod members named cardinals are: Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, 72; Indian Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, 53, head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church; Nigerian Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, 68; and Philippine Archbishop Luis Tagle of Manila, 55.

Between slaps on the back and warm handshakes in the synod hall, Cardinal-designate Rai told Catholic News Service he was told at 5 p.m. Oct. 23 of the pope’s intention to make him a cardinal, and he was sworn to secrecy until noon the next day.

Cardinal-designate Thottunkal started to tell CNS the reasons why his nomination was such an honor, but he was interrupted by Patriarch Rai grabbing both his hands and saying, “Dear, dear brother.”

When others began congratulating the patriarch, Archbishop Thottunkal continued his brief interview, saying, “For our church, it’s a great honor from the Holy See, recognizing our apostolates as well as our missions in India and all over.”

The cardinal-designate said the appointment also is an honor for India: “It’s great culture and people,” and the Vatican recognizes “the great unity in diversity of our country.”

Cardinal-designate Tagle said a bishop’s job often involves keeping secrets, so spending the morning with other synod members and not breathing a word about the news was not a huge challenge.

He told CNS that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, informed him of the pope’s decision just before 5 p.m. the previous evening.

“Listening to the text of the pope’s letter being read out to me, I also felt like — here it comes,” he said, fighting back tears, — “it felt like someone far greater than I am is here. Very near.”

He told Vatican Radio the announcement was “a spiritual experience for me,” and that his initial reaction was “to respond with the words of the prayer before Communion: ‘I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,’ but I felt that someone greater than me has come to call me.”

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Tags: India Lebanon Pope Benedict XVI Vatican Maronite