When the phone rings


His phone stopped ringing late March. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 79, knew then it was only a question of time before he would be ushered out of the secretary of state’s office, Italy’s La Stampa reports. Days earlier, the Rome conclave of cardinals scuppered all forecasts by electing a Latin American Jesuit as 266th pontiff since Peter the Fisherman.

Friday, Pope Francis reached beyond today’s 217 cardinals into the Vatican diplomatic corps. He named 58-year-old Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin as the new secretary of state. Parolin served as the papal nuncio to Venezuela. He has helped craft the Church’s response to virtually every geopolitical challenge of the past two decades: nuclear disarmament, dialogue with Iran and North Korea, to the fight against human trafficking.

The Pontiff thanked Bertone but closed the exit door for a “divisive figure” in the Vatican corridors of power. Bertone, for now, retains his place in the Vatican Bank’s supervisory council. He will stay on the job until a report on the bank is submitted to Francis.

Critics blame Bertone for a management breakdown exemplified by the VatiLeaks scandal, New York Times noted. Disclosed infighting suggested cronyism. “Archbishop Pietro Parolin’s appointment ends the era of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone,” the Guardian pointed out. Known for his frugal lifestyle, Parolin’s appointment is also the most significant appointment by Francis since March.

The secretary of state’s job calls for a cardinal’s red hat. And until the next consistory names new cardinals, an appointee is accorded the title “pro-secretary.” That’s what the rule books say. Francis will presumably elevate Parolin then to the College of Cardinals, along with other appointees.

Francis always chafed at rules that he felt hobble his job as pastor, even if it upsets his staff. Like Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he hefted his own travel bags, preferred public transportation to chauffeur-driven limousines, and cooked meals for himself back in Buenos Aires.

Parolin’s appointment is the “first stage,” says communication specialist Greg Burke. Francis will lean on Parolin to oversee diplomatic relations with over 170 countries, when he takes the job mid-October. By then the second stage will have kicked in.

Eight cardinals are convening to advise on recasting Vatican bureaucracy, last overhauled by Pope John Paul II in 1988. None of the eight is a Curia “insider.” They reflect a worldwide geographical spread: Francisco Ossa, Chile; Oswald Gracias, India; Reinhard Marx, Germany; Laurent Pasinya, Congo; Sean Patrick O’Malley, United States; Oscar Maradiaga, Honduras; George Pell, Australia; and Giuseppe Bertello, Vatican.

“In a small world such as the Vatican, personnel is always policy,” veteran reporter George Allen writes. “Nothing says more about where a pope wants to go than the people he chooses to help get him there.”

Parolin had been on most short-lists for the job. “Many think he has the right stuff. But he may not wield quite the same power as his immediate predecessors: Bertone under Benedict and Cardinal Angelo Sodano under John Paul II. Francis is a pope who takes the reins of government into his own hands. That makes him less dependent on aides.”

Allen offers three insights. First, Francis is set, not to dismantle Vatican structures, but make them work. “If he wanted to blow things up, Francis would hardly have reached out to a career Vatican official, as well as an Italian churchman.” This outsider Pope needs some insider help in a “system restore” operation.

Second, by naming a veteran diplomat, Francis signaled he doesn’t want the Church’s relevance to dim while he puts out fires and fixes internal problems. “In Parolin, Francis didn’t just hire a CEO but also a statesman.”

Third, Francis confirmed the moderate and pragmatic stamp of his papacy. Parolin’s profile is basically nonideological. He is a classic product of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps that prize flexibility and realism.

Parolin’s four years in Venezuela coincided with the final years of Hugo Chávez. Yet, he never engaged in the testy back-and-forth with the leftist strongman associated with many of the bishops. He preferred to practice quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

“Though being Secretary of State is a prestigious gig, a mini-boom of speculation on the Internet back in 2006 had Parolin in line for an even higher position,” Allen recalls. A note posted on Wikipedia website speculated Pietro Parolin might be the Petrus Romanus in the papal prophecies of the medieval Abbot Malachy.

Abbot Malachy predicted Peter the Roman will be the last pope before the end of the world. “Whether Parolin will ever be elected pope, and whether that triggers the apocalypse, obviously remains to be seen,” Allen adds, “but already this particular Peter is now a very big deal.”

The phone rang in the Padua home of 19-year-old  information technology student Stefano Cabizza. “Ciao, Stefano,” the caller said. “It’s Pope Francis.”

Stefano earlier wrote the pontiff describing his hopes. It was the second call from the Pope. He could not reach Stefano on the first attempt because the student was out. Pope Francis told him to refer to him with the informal “tu.” “Do you think the Apostles would have called Christ your excellency? They were friends, just as you and I are now, and with friends I’m accustomed to using ‘tu’.”

“I couldn’t believe it. We laughed and joked for about eight minutes,” Stefano recalls. “He asked me to pray for him and then gave me a blessing. It was the most beautiful day of my life.” All because the phone rang.


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  • Mang Teban

    interesting irony of one whose phone stopped ringing as a sign that it was the end of a career and the other phone rang to begin a new chapter of one’s life with euphoria because the caller is the pope.

    Okay, it can be probably called a literary classic done by Juan L. Mercado and I hope that stops from there. All this fascination of the new pope is contagious. Yet, I believe that that fascination must translate into action and results. If we are affected by the humility of Pope Francis, then we must practice humility in our little way as an individual. Then, we should strive to help our brothers and sisters in need and avoid greed. If God “calls on our phone”, we must answer it and resolve to follow His will. Do not hang up.

    • brunogiordano

      Ang bagong POPE ay isang JESUITS.

      Ang mga DAMASO at maka-DAMASO ay OBVIOUS na hindi masaya sa magandang halimbawa na ipinamamalas ng bagong POPE dahil tila hirap o ayaw nilang sundin ito.

  • 1ncorruptus

    Abbot Malachy later became Saint Malachy.

  • buninay1

    If his latest selfie shot that went viral will be any indication, this Pope is really intent on putting a new face on Papacy in particular and Catholicism in general. Probably,one of the things that Pope Francis will try to tear down during his tenure is the over-tendency of Roman Catholic Church to veer towards ceremonious formalism at the expense of the down-to-earth call to convert or evangelize the world into pro-active though largely traditional morality and spirituality. And barring anymore seismic scandals, Pope Francis leadership as boosted by the recent revolutionary appointments should be geared by now to tackle the internal and external problems besetting the church as a whole, not to mention those of the world which the church is very much a part. of.

  • ConnieLee90

    This gives me a good picture of a practical, no-nonsense Pope whose desire is no other than to reach out and touch someone. By setting up an example of service with a personal touch, the Pope tears down the walls of separation and brings the Vatican right to the faithful. Where the flock used to seek the Vatican, the Vatican, under Pope Francis, seeks the flock and leaves its doors wide open for easy access. What a refreshing change !

  • Fulpol

    “Do you think the Apostles would have called Christ your excellency?


    I dont’ know if the Apostles called Christ as Lord or Master of Rabbi… the group of Christ during that time is not formal and with no hierarchical organization.. unlike the Roman Catholic Church with levels of hierarchy and with very formal structure..

    it is always the followers who brought it to themselves.. rather than the founder..

  • parengtony

    A beautiful piece of writing.

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