By Lay Centre staff
ROME — A good friend of The Lay Centre will be among the 13 new cardinals that Pope Francis is expected to create at the next consistory on Saturday. Cardinal-elect Michael Fitzgerald was named to the College of Cardinals in recognition of his significant and years-long contribution to the advancement of interreligious dialogue, namely in Christian-Muslim relations.
The archbishop, who served as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, from 2002 to 2012, paid a visit to The Lay Centre Sept 11 and, as is often the case at The Lay Centre, an ordinary event became quite extraordinary.
His visit, planned well before the pope’s announcement, Sept 1, of his cardinalate, included the celebration of Mass in The Lay Centre chapel, followed by dinner with the student community. During dinner, he shared spontaneously and with disarming humility his life’s journey.
Cardinal-elect Fitzgerald, who is a member of the Missionaries of Africa, recalled how, just before completing his doctoral dissertation, his superior told him he was being assigned to teach Arabic at the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome. Though surprised by the assignment — he did not speak Arabic then — he embraced the call.
He studied Arabic in London and returned to Rome to teach. After several years, he was assigned to teach Islamic studies at the University of Kampala, Uganda, which he said was challenging but rewarding. After returning to Rome for a short period, he was sent to Sudan, and Arab-speaking nation, where he had to minister in Arabic for the first time. Two years later, he was elected to serve on the General Council of the Missionaries of Africa.
Upon the completion of his a six-year term, he was named to serve as secretary to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He spent 15 years in this role, growing not only Christian-Muslim relations, but also in dialogue with the many other religions in the world, including with the Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, he said. These were also years spent catching up with the vision Pope John Paul II had established for the Catholic Church and his Curia, he told his audience, whichconsisted of students of The Lay Centre community and visiting guests from Israel, Syria, Turkey, China, Italy, Brazil, Ukraine, Greece, Mozambique, Cameroon, and the United States.
As of 2002, Archbishop Fitzgerald served as president of the council, until Pope Benedict XVI named him the apostolic nuncio to Egypt in 2006. His time in Egypt coincided with the very eventful period of the Arab Spring. He retired in 2012, having reached the age of 75.
At 82, Cardinal-elect Fitzgerald has exceeded the age limit to vote in the next conclave.
However, he remains active in his ministry. After spending the last seven years with the Missionaries of Africa in Jerusalem, he returned this past year to Liverpool to minister in a parish there.
The students and staff were captivated by Archbishop Fitzgerald’s story, absorbed by his storytelling and enjoying conversation in this informal setting.