Sunday, July 26, 2020


In a rare move in modern times, a “lowly” priest was made a cardinal of the Church, without first being a bishop. In accordance with the norm that all cardinals should be bishops, Pope Francis consecrated Father Czerny a bishop on 4 October 2019, making him titular archbishop of Benevento. He was made a Cardinal the next day!

CARDINAL MICHAEL F. CZERNY, SJ (born 1946) is a Czechoslovakian-born priest whose work in Canada, Latin America, Africa, and Rome has promoted social justice. He has been under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development since 1 January 2017. 

Born in BrnoCzechoslovakia, his family immigrated to Canada by ship in 1948. He attended a Jesuit high school in Montreal and joined the Jesuits in 1964. He attended Gonzaga University, in our own state of Washington.  He was ordained a priest in 1973 and obtained his doctorate in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Chicago in 1978.

Cardinal Czerny co-founded the Jesuit Center for Social Faith and Justice in Toronto in 1979, and  was the first director until 1989. In 1990–1991, following the murder of six Jesuits and others at the University of Central America in San Salvador, he assumed the director's role of the University's Institute for Human Rights, a position that had been held by one of the murdered priests. 

From 1992 to 2002, he worked in the Social Justice Secretariat at the Jesuit General Curia in Rome. In 2002 he founded the African Jesuit AIDS Network and directed it until 2010. During these nine years, he initiated and coordinated efforts by Jesuits and others in nearly 30 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa to provide pastoral care, education, health services, social and spiritual support, and to fight stigma for victims of HIV/AIDS, and channeled resources from foreign sources. During that time, he also taught at Hekima University College in Nairobi

Cardinal Czerny worked in Rome at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as the personal assistant to Cardinal Peter Turkson from 2010 to 2016.

On 14 December 2016, Pope Francis appointed him under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, effective 1 January 2017, along with Scalabrinian Father Fabio Baggio. Discussing his new responsibility, he called migration "one of the most important and urgent human phenomena of our times", adding: "There’s hardly a place in the planet which is not touched by this phenomenon. Indeed, though many are not aware of it, there are more people moving in Russia and China today than in any other part of the world.”
With Angels Unawares

In 2016 he commissioned Timothy Schmalz (see Blog  7/17/20) to create the Angels Unawares sculpture that depicts a boat carrying migrants and refugees wearing clothes that identify them with a variety of cultures and time periods. It was inaugurated in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican in 2019.

Pope Francis named him a voting member of the October 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment.

In October 2018, he said the rhetoric used to describe migration and refugee movements was misleading. He said: "It's not a crisis. It's a series of mismanagements and poor policies and self-interested manipulations. The numbers that we're talking about, even on the total scale, are not at all that great."

In keeping with his work to better the lives of migrants, his pectoral cross, made by the Italian artist Domenico Pellegrino, is wood from the remains of a boat used by migrants to cross the Mediterranean from Northern Africa in their attempt to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The new Cardinal says. The poor wood suggests the Jesuit vow of poverty and the desire for a humble, engaged Church. The origin of the wood reflects my family's flight to safety when I was very young as well as my current responsibilities in the Migrants and Refugees Section.

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