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Father Michael Czerny SJ
September 1, 2019 — On Sunday, September 1st, after his Angelus reflection, Pope Francis announced the names of thirteen new cardinals to be installed at a consistory in early October. Among these were three Jesuits, one of whom, Father Michael Czerny, is a member of the Jesuit Province of Canada.

Fr. Czerny was surprised by the Pope’s announcement which found him in Guararema, a municipality in the state of São Paulo in Brazil. From there on Sunday 1.09 he expressed his gratitude. “I thank God and I thank Pope Francis for this new mission, this new service, this great honour,” he said.

When the appointment was made, Czerny was at the Florestan Fernandes National School, part of the landless workers’ movement. Speaking to Vatican News, he explained that representatives of Latin American peoples’ organizations are there for a two-day meeting in order to prepare their contribution to the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, scheduled for next month at the Vatican.

“I thank God for His providence and for His infinite mercy, and I thank everyone for their prayers and support,” he added.

Many are familiar with Fr. Czerny’s more recent contributions to the work of the Holy See. In 2010, he was asked by Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to serve as his “socius” or personal counsellor. In this capacity he contributed to the writing and publishing of Laudato Si’, the papal encyclical on integral ecology.

In 2016 Pope Francis appointed him Under-Secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. In this position he reports directly to the Pope. In 2018 he was a member of the Synod of Bishops on Youth, and will soon serve as a Special Secretary of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon.

In his announcement, Pope Francis stated that the new cardinals, representing over ten different nations, were a sign of “the missionary vocation of the church that continues to proclaim the merciful love of God to all men and women of the earth.” They express the Holy Father’s concern with fostering a Church of dialogue and reconciliation, committed to the environment and to the marginalized.

On 5 October 2019, with the consistory in which Fr. Czerny will be created a Cardinal, he will be among four Canadian Cardinals. The other three are Cardinal Marc Ouellet (75), Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, Cardinal Thomas Christopher Collins (72) of Toronto, and Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix (62) of Quebec City.

About Michael Czerny, SJ

Born in 1946 in Czechoslovakia, Fr. Czerny came to Canada with his family at the age of two. The family settled in Montreal, where he attended Loyola High School.

Fr. Michael entered the Society of Jesus in 1964 and did his novitiate in Guelph, Ontario. After his first vows, he was sent to study classics and philosophy at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington; he completed the Bachelor of Arts in Classics and Philosophy in 1968. After teaching for a year at Gonzaga High School in St John’s, he did theology studies in Chicago and at Regis College in Toronto, and was ordained there in June 1973. He did graduate studies in Ideas and Methods, an interdisciplinary programme at the University of Chicago, and earned the doctorate in 1978.

In 1980 he co-founded, along with fellow Jesuits Gordon George, Michael Stogre and Jim Webb, the Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice, of which he became the long-time director.

During El Salvador’s civil war, Fr. Michael was one of several Jesuits who volunteered to replace the Jesuits murdered at the José Simeon Cañas Central American University in San Salvador in 1989. He replaced Fr. Segundo Montes as director of the human rights institute there, and he taught philosophy and shared in parish ministry. One of his friends wrote at the time: “He is rooted and grounded in the lives of the truly poor of El Salvador, an experience which enlivens his priesthood.”

In 1992, he was named by the superior general of the Jesuits to be Secretary for Social Justice of the Jesuit Curia in Rome. In this capacity, he developed and oversaw a process to articulate the characteristics of the Jesuit social apostolate.

In 2002 he was missioned to serve as the founding director of the African Jesuit AIDS Network established by the provincials of Africa and Madagascar. After attending the 2nd Synod for Africa in 2009 as an expert, he was invited back to Rome to serve as assistant or counsellor to Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In 2017, when Justice and Peace was reformed along with other councils to form the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Fr Czerny became one of the two Under-Secretaries of a new Migrants and Refugees Section. In May 2019 he was named one of two Special Secretaries for the upcoming Special Synod of Bishops on the Amazon.


What is the role of a cardinal, and how are they appointed? 

The most important duty of cardinals under the age of 80 is to elect the Pope. They also give him counsel, contribute to the governance of the Church and act as papal envoys. Some are officers of the Roman Curia while many serve as bishops of major dioceses around the world.

Cardinals are selected by the Pope. According to Latin Code of Canon Law: “Those to be promoted cardinals are men freely selected by the pontiff, who are at least in the order of the priesthood and are truly outstanding for doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters.” (Canon 351).

Have there been other Jesuit cardinals? 

While Jesuit priests promise to avoid being “chosen or promoted to any prelacy or dignity in or outside the Society” (Constitutions S.J., Part X, N°6 [817]), occasionally a Jesuit is named a Cardinal. Throughout history, there have been several. For example, Saint Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (1542-1621) was an Italian Jesuit and named cardinal in 1599. At the consistory of 21 February 2001, the Jesuit Archbishop Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, along with the American theologian, Father Avery Dulles, S.J.

On 5 October, along with Father Czerny, the Holy Father will promote Archbishop Jean-Claude Höllerich, S.J., a former missionary in Japan and appointed archbishop of Luxembourg by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. He will also promote Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, S.J., Archbishop Emeritus of Kaunas, Lithuania. This will bring the number of Jesuit cardinals to seven. The other four are Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S. J. (Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), Cardinal Pedro Barreto, S. J. (Archbishop of Huancayo), Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, S. J. (Archbishop Emeritus of Jakarta), and the nonagenarian Albert Cardinal Vanhoye, S.J., professor emeritus of New Testament at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, renowned for his lifelong work on the Letter to the Hebrews.

Who are the Jesuits? 

The Jesuits are a Roman Catholic order of priests and brothers founded nearly 500 years ago by St. Ignatius of Loyola. With over 15,000 Jesuits serving the Church in 112 nations on six continents, they are the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church. Jesuits are known for their colleges, universities and high schools, but also minister in retreat houses, parishes, hospitals and refugee camps. The Canadian Province serves in 10 provinces and three territories and has approximately 200 men who serve as pastors, administrators, educators, spiritual and retreat directors and in other roles. Jesuits have served in parts of Canada as early as the 16th century and continually since the restoration of the Society in 1815.

How do the Jesuits reconcile their religious vocation with social action? 

In the Christian tradition, the great commandment of love is twofold: to love God and to love our neighbour. Recently the Church has been underlining that loving one’s neighbour includes caring for the natural environment and protecting the rights of future generations. Following the example of their founder Ignatius of Loyola, Jesuits express their faith and love of God in and through the loving care for their neighbour in need as well as through promoting justice, reconciliation and dialogue. This mission was expressed as “the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement. For reconciliation with God demands the reconciliation of people with one another,” in the words of the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus in 1974. More recent general congregations have spoken of establishing right relationship with God, with one another, and with creation.

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