Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, was one of 13 new cardinals named by Pope Francis Sept. 1. He is pictured in an April 10, 2017, file photo in Rome. CNS photo/Robert Duncan

Canadian Jesuit Fr. Michael Czerny to be made cardinal in October

  • September 1, 2019

The Pope, who is full of surprises, has done it again by announcing that a Canadian Jesuit priest will join 12 archbishops and bishops who will be made cardinals next month in Rome.

Excerpt of video interview at end of article.

After decades of serving the poor and oppressed, Fr. Michael Czerny, who founded the Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice in an east-end Toronto neighbourhood 40 years ago, was in Brazil when informed  Sept. 1 of “the totally surprising news” that Pope Francis will make him a cardinal on Oct. 5.

“I thank God and I thank Pope Francis for this new mission, this new service, this great honour,” Czerny, 73, told Vatican News.

Czerny, who was born in what was Czechoslovakia in 1949 and came to Montreal with his family at age two, will give Canada four cardinals eligible to vote in a papal conclave, joining Cardinals Thomas Collins, Gerald Lacroix and Marc Ouellet.

Collins called Czerny’s selection “an occasion of great joy, and especially for all of us in the Archdiocese of Toronto, where he spent many years of most fruitful ministry. May God abundantly bless him as he enters into this new apostolic mission.” 

Announcing the new cardinals, Pope Francis said they illustrate “the missionary vocation of the Church that continues to proclaim the merciful love of God to all men and women of the Earth.”  A commitment to serving the poor, caring for migrants and refugees and engaging the Church in global dialogue are characteristics shared by many in the group of 13.

Czerny, who speaks English, French, German, Italian and Spanish, has worked since 2016 as a Vatican undersecretary of the Section for Migrants and Refugees at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. 

That came after he spent six years in the Vatican under Cardinal Peter Turkson in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Earlier this year, he was appointed by the Pope as a special secretary for the upcoming Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.

Yet despite his Curia experience, the priest’s selection to become a cardinal was unexpected. Although he has worked in several social justice ministries in Canada, Central America and Africa before moving to the Vatican, according to canon law he must be ordained a bishop before receiving his red hat — unless he requests and receives a dispensation. 

Jesuit Fr. Michael Kelly, who has known Czerny for 30 years, said the selection “isn’t really that surprising because Michael’s appointment is completely consistent with the pastoral priorities of this pontificate.”

“I think Michael exemplifies what this Pope wants — a pastoral and merciful approach to people in need and the more of that there is in the College of Cardinals, the better it will be for the Church worldwide,” Kelly said by e-mail. “And his current work with migrants and refugees will feed that contribution.

“Michael is the blend of someone with a razor sharp mind with someone who’s had the benefit of loads of experience at the coal face of serving people in great need.”

An example of that came in 2002 when, at his request, Czerny moved to Africa to become the founding director of the African Jesuit AIDS Network.

“When he started that work there was resistance to looking at AIDS except through a moralizing lens,” Kelly said. “Michael did a lot to move beyond that point to seeing the people involved and the service needed as being a medical response.”

The 13 new cardinals are from 13 different nations, and 10 of them are under age 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave. In addition to Czerny they are: 

Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, 69, of Indonesia; Archbishop Juan Garcia Rodriguez, 71, of Havana; Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, 59, of Congo; Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich, 61, of Luxembourg; Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri, 72, of Guatemala; Archbishop Matteo Zuppi, 63, of Italy; Archbishop Cristobal Lopez Romero, 67, of Morocco; Archbishop Jose Tolentino Medonca, 53 of Portugal; Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, 67 of Spain; retired Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius 80, of Lithuania; retired Bishop Eugenio dal Corso, 80, of Angola; retired Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, 82, of England.

Barring any deaths or resignations, when the new cardinals are installed the College of Cardinals will have 128 members eligible to vote in a conclave, although the number will fall to 124 after four cardinals turn 80 later in the month.

(With files from CNS)

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