“All I have ever done is always take the side of the weak”, cardinal-elect Augusto Paolo Lojudice has confessed on the subject of his rise to the ‘top’ of the Church.
– “The Gospel says: get down to the nitty-gritty and get your hands dirty”
Lojudice, the 56-year-old Archbishop of Siena, in Italy, is one of the 13 men Pope Francis will make cardinals in the consistory of this coming Saturday November 28.
Ahead of receiving his red hat, Lojudice confessed his hopes and fears in a November 22 interview with Madrid archdiocesan publication Alfa y Omega.
“The Pope always tells me that I am one of the ‘most feisty’ bishops, but all I have ever done is always take the side of the weak”, the Italian prelate explained.
“This is what the Gospel says: you have to get down to the nitty-gritty and get your hands dirty”, he explained, adding that “there are things that cannot be done from an office or on the phone” and for that reason priests and bishops must go out, too, into the field.
– “It’s not enough just to give the poor and the marginalised a pat on the back”
Since he was ordained in Rome at the age of 24 in 1989, Lojudice has earned a reputation as a “street priest” for his work with immigrants, Roma at the risk of being expelled from their shantytowns, the poor, sex workers and people suffering from Mafia oppression.
In his conversation with Alfa y Omega, he reflected on those experiences that have made him the model of the pastor that Pope Francis calls “a shepherd with the smell of the sheep”.
“On the peripheries, I have always tried to enter into conversation with people and not be afraid to go out to meet them”. Lojudice explained, adding that above all “I have tried to find concrete answers so that I can really help” the people he encounters, “who have had it harder in life than others”.
“It’s not enough just to give them a pat on the back. I only follow the example of the Gospel of the Good Samaritan. We cannot remain unmoved in these situations” of suffering, he insisted, while simultaneously warning against going to “extremes” to help people.
But Lojudice isn’t just a “street priest” – he has also been the spiritual director of Rome’s major seminary.
Having said that, his experiences on the streets also accompanied him during his time at the seminary, during which he said he “invented a series of exercises with extreme situations for the seminarians to test themselves, as part of their training”.
– With the Roma “what I felt clearly was the force of the heart of the Gospel”
Lojudice, who along with being the Archbishop of Siena is also the secretary of the Italian Bishops’ Commission for Migration, was one of the chief organisers of Pope Francis’ historic meeting in the Vatican in October 2015 with over 7,000 Roma people, in which the pontiff urged an end to “discrimination, racism and xenophobia” and insisted that “no one must feel isolated, and no one is authorised to trample on the dignity and rights of others”.
Reflecting on his experiences with the Roma, Lojudice explained that with them “what I felt clearly was the force of the heart of the Gospel”.
“The Gospel images of the Good Samaritan and chapter 25 of Matthew came clearly to mind; that phrase, ‘you have done it to me’, in which Jesus tells us that He is there where there is suffering”, the Italian prelate remembered.
Above all, Lojudice said that his experiences with Roma children had particularly stuck with him.
“I put myself in the shoes of those children, and looked into the eyes of those who unfortunately had a life of crime sketched out before them. And I asked myself: what can I, a simple priest, do for them – what can I give them so that these children have a different future?”, the new cardinal explained.