Some have referred to Pope Francis as the "Pope of Surprises" - and his announcement after the Angelus on Sept. 1 was certainly in line with that. Pope Francis announced a surprise consistory (formal meeting of cardinals) to be held on Oct. 5 during which he will create 13 new cardinals.
Of those 13 chosen, 10 are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in the conclave. And those chosen reflect, in many ways, the effort of Pope Francis to enlarge the focus of the Church around the world and among those who sometimes have no voice.
One such bishop to be made a cardinal on Oct. 5 is a bishop with some surprising connections to the Diocese of Buffalo - Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini of the Diocese of Huehuetenango in Guatemala. Bishop Ramazzini has a long friendship with Msgr. David Gallivan, a retired priest of the Buffalo Diocese, and spoke at Christ the King Seminary 10 years ago at the invitation of Msgr. Gallivan.
The two first met when Msgr. Gallivan was the director for the Secretariat for Latin America for the USCCB and would take trips south of the border to meet church officials down there, and also accompany U.S. bishops who were traveling to Latin America, working as a translator and liaison.
Msgr. Gallivan related some telling experiences he had with Bishop Ramazzini, who at the time was bishop of San Marcos in Guatemala. One such experience was when Msgr. Gallivan and his nephew were traveling around the countryside with Ramazzini, and after a hot grueling day, they were covered with sweat and grime.
When they returned to the bishop's modest house, they discovered that they had no water available, as sometimes happens in poor areas of Latin America. "The roof!" the bishop exclaimed, and the three of them went up to the roof of his house and washed themselves using the rainwater that had been gathered in the water tank. A bishop not afraid to get dirty, and not above using collected rain water to get clean.
Msgr. Gallivan also pointed out the compassion for the poor and especially migrants that Bishop Ramazzini has always had. As they were touring the area, they came across a young man with only one arm. "What happened?" Msgr. Gallivan asked. "La bestia! (the Beast)" the young man answered, citing the name for the network of freight trains that are utilized by U.S.- bound migrants to more quickly traverse the length of Mexico.
Bishop Ramazzini remarked that many like this young man try to migrate to the U.S. because there is no opportunity for them there in Guatemala. In an interview a few years ago, he noted that the problems included "the lack of opportunity for many young people; family disintegration, which also is the result of migration, which is the result of poverty, which is the result of injustice. It all forms part of the challenge and the need for change."
One commentator called Bishop Ramazzini "a Francis bishop before Francis," and looking at Bishop Ramazzini's priorities it is an easy conclusion. In an interview with Vatican News the day after the announcement, he said that his priorities were "the problem of migrants, the fight against structural poverty, and creating a dialogue in the country that discontinues the existing polarization and works toward the future."
It is no wonder that Pope Francis chose this engaging, passionate bishop from a small, rural diocese to join the College of Cardinals, and be a voice in determining the future of the Universal Church.