By Cindy Wooden
ROME — Cardinal Robert W. McElroy of San Diego apologized to a group of children in Rome for having forgotten most of the Italian he had learned as a student in their city.
But his promise to them, and their pledge to him in return, to build a relationship of prayer and mutual support were sealed with high-fives and a formal blessing, neither of which required the aid of a translator.
A short time later April 23, Cardinal McElroy formally “took possession” of their parish church, St. Frumentius, as his titular church in Rome, sealing his cardinal’s identity as a member of the clergy of Rome. In ancient times, the cardinals who elected popes were pastors of the city’s parishes.
“Today I come to you as a stranger, but on a deeper level, a brother through one faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ,” he told parishioners — in Italian and English — during his homily at Mass.
Just before completing the brief ceremony and celebrating Mass, Cardinal McElroy told Catholic News Service that, while serving as a member of various dicasteries of the Roman Curia is a concrete way for a cardinal to serve the universal Church, having a titular parish gives him a real connection with the Diocese of Rome.
Like many parishes in the Diocese of San Diego, “this parish has a significant outreach to the poor and marginalized,” the cardinal said. The outreach includes supporting a school and other projects in Mozambique, sponsoring a refugee family from Iraq, running a food bank, operating a nursery school for poor families, assisting victims of domestic abuse and operating a phone service to check on elderly residents of the neighborhood and provide assistance when needed.
In his homily, Cardinal McElroy told parishioners he was pleased when Pope Francis assigned him the parish last August because it is “a vibrant community of faith.”
The parish in northern Rome, some 6,300 miles from San Diego, was established in 1968, and the church building was completed in 1985. It is named after St. Frumentius, a fourth-century bishop in Ethiopia, who was born in Lebanon.
Cardinal McElroy told parishioners that when he was in Lebanon in April, he visited the saint’s birthplace where there now is a shrine.
Fathers Bradley Easterbrooks and Guillermo “Memo” Hernandez, newly ordained in the San Diego Diocese, accompanied the cardinal at the Mass. They are completing their studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
Father Marco Vianello, current pastor of the parish, concelebrated the Mass with Cardinal McElroy as did Rome Auxiliary Bishop Daniele Salera, who was pastor of the parish until being named a bishop 11 months ago.