The superior general of the religious order, Fr. Stanley Lubungo, is himself a Zambian. His predecessor as superior general, Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr, is from Ghana, and is the bishop of the Ghanaian Diocese of Wa.
Fitzgerald, one of the world’s newest cardinals, received the red hat from Pope Francis at a consistory on Oct. 5, 2019. He said that the event was not a life-changing experience, unlike his episcopal ordination in 1992.
“The actual ceremony was just a ceremony,” he said. “I would say that in a sense it left me cold. We were there. We showed our faith and our obedience -- and all that is important. And there is the unity and the fellowship with the other cardinals, and that is important.”
“But it’s not like an ordination. It’s not a sacrament. It was much more impressive when I was ordained a bishop in St. Peter’s by Pope John Paul II. That was a really significant celebration. Receiving this red biretta is nothing very much.”
Nevertheless, Fitzgerald was pleased to enter the College of Cardinals in the same consistory as Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, the current president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He said that the two appointments underlined the importance of interreligious relations today.
“It’s one of the signs of Pope Francis’ pontificate. He’s been very forthcoming in this and he’s taken initiatives. So I think that goes along that line,” the cardinal said.
Fitzgerald served as president of the pontifical council from 2002 to 2006, when he was appointed apostolic nuncio to Egypt. After stepping down in 2012, he entered retirement, settling first in Jerusalem and latterly in Liverpool.
He said the coronavirus pandemic had changed his life far more dramatically than becoming a cardinal. Since the U.K. government imposed a nationwide lockdown in March he has been largely confined to his residence in the parish of St. Vincent de Paul.
The virus has forced him to cancel his plans to travel and deliver talks. He is spending his time translating works by Cardinal Lavigerie. He also celebrates Masses in the parish, which are currently livestreamed as public liturgies are not permitted until July 4.
“Apart from that, we’ve organized -- and we’ve continued even during the pandemic -- a Gospel-sharing once a week,” he said. “We do it by Zoom. Together with another member of the community I’ve been helping to organize that and to run it. I was also asked to look after the altar servers -- a very serious engagement.”
The cardinal, who has dedicated his life to Arabic and Islamic studies, said he believed that Pope Francis had helped to usher in a new era in ties between the world’s major religions.
(Story continues below)
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He cited the pope’s relationship with the Grand Imam of al- Azhar Mosque, Ahmed el-Tayeb, and his signing of a declaration on “human fraternity” in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
He highlighted the pope’s commitment not only to dialogue, but also to “serving humanity together.”
He noted, however, that the emphasis on both conversation and practical action was not new. He cited the 1984 Vatican document “Dialogue and Mission,” which set out the four dimensions of interreligious dialogue.
He said: “There is this dialogue of presence -- just living together in peace and harmony. There is a dialogue of action, of doing things together. There is a dialogue of discourse, I would call it, of talking together, discussing together, thinking about theology, about religious questions. Then there is the spiritual dialogue, spiritual experience. The four aspects are there.”
“But I think that Pope Francis has given -- as he has in his teachings generally, Laudato si’, Evangelii Gaudium... -- a more practical way of living out our Christian life. And living out the Christian life means to be related to people who are not Christians too and to be working together with them.”
Fitzgerald said that, amid the world’s depressing developments, we should rejoice at progress in relations between Catholics and members of other religions.