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  • David Carlson

897: Cardinal McElroy: The issues of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are very important

Day 897: Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The issues of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are very important to Pope Francis. My appointment is a testimony to that importance.

Newest U.S. cardinal, San Diego’s Robert McElroy, on why he thinks he was chosen

McElroy took time to speak with the Union-Tribune early Saturday before the St. Peter’s Basilica ceremony


San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy was elevated to cardinal by Pope Francis on Saturday in Vatican City. Despite a long Catholic history, it marks the first time San Diego has had a cardinal and could raise the importance of the city among the faithful. McElroy, 68, was the only new cardinal from the U.S. named by Pope Francis.

Now that he has his red cardinal’s hat (called a biretta) and signet ring, he can be among the group to select the next pope when the time comes. He said he should be traveling to the Vatican about four times a year but spending the rest of the time in San Diego.

McElroy took time to speak to the Union-Tribune by phone from the Vatican — at 3 a.m. San Diego time — a few hours before the ceremony, which named 20 new cardinals.

Q: What does it mean for the average San Diegan that we have a cardinal?

A: This pope chose new places to make cardinals, and I think it is a wonderful commentary on the Diocese of San Diego and its vitality, as well as the city and community. It’s a sign of all the great things the Catholic community, and general community, are doing. It’s also a sign of the pope’s priorities, because we are at the intersection of the U.S. and Latin America. The issues of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are very important to Pope Francis. My appointment is a testimony to that importance.

Q: Why did Pope Francis pick you?

A: Pope Francis has initiated a renewal of the life of the church that centers on synodality, which means the church is inclusive and participative. It is collaborative, and we listen to one another. The other is pastoral theology, where we ask what we believe and how it can be applied to normal people. And the third is how our world must be transformed culturally, and with issues like the environment, and justice, economically and racially. We have tried to plant the seeds of those priorities in the diocese in the last seven years. I think that is a reason I was chosen.

Q: What do you see as the church’s priorities?

A: A major one is young people, who are drifting away from the life of the church. We have got to find a way to address that meaningfully. Another one is to make our multicultural community into more of a unitive reality, instead of one of division.

Q: We see a lot of suffering in downtown San Diego with the homeless population. What are Catholics supposed to do?

A: It’s an enormous challenge. Father Joe’s Villages (nonprofit organization that works with the homeless) was a Catholic initiative of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and does very effective work. The other denominations also do very effective work with housing: temporary, long-term and working with those that don’t want housing. I talked with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria last month, and I know the city is putting a lot of funds toward helping. It is hard to know exactly what is the right way for society to deal with the dilemmas of the homeless and how effectively we can reach out to them. It’s not clear to me there is a comprehensive solution at the present moment. That is a challenge for us that we are trying to figure out.

Q: San Diego has a vibrant LGBT community. What does that mean for Catholics?

A: The challenge for us in the church is to make LGBT Catholics feel as welcome in the life of the church as anyone else. We have to do that by understanding everyone in life confronts difficulties and challenges, and the pope has the image of the church as a field hospital: Everyone is suffering, everyone needs one another. Our goal has to be to help LGBT people — men, women and families — feel equally welcome in the life of the church. We need to keep toward doing that.

(Synod discussion in San Diego)

Q: There seems to be a lot of people dying before old age in this country for different reasons. Why does God let good people die young?

A: The question of human suffering is the most difficult religious question that exists. I have talked to a lot of theologians and wonderful spiritual leaders around the world and have asked if there is a single answer for this. And there isn’t. In Catholicism, we believe in the mercy of the love of God and Christ died for us. We don’t have an answer why that type of suffering occurs: I don’t have it and have never met anyone that does have it. I just have my faith in the fact Christ died for us, and loves us enough to bring us all together at the end of time, and restore us to one another.

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