Asuncion, Sep 1 (EFE).- Paraguay rolled out the welcome mat on Thursday for Adalberto Martinez Flores, whose appointment as cardinal by Pope Francis in a ceremony last weekend in Rome was a first for the South American country.
Riding in a convertible bus and escorted by National Police officers on motorcycles and a caravan of vehicles, the 71-year-old Martinez Florez made his way from Silvio Pettirossi International Airport in the Asuncion suburb of Luque to the Metropolitan Cathedral in the heart of the Paraguayan capital.
In a festive atmosphere reminiscent of the country’s soccer celebrations, people waved flags, took photos with their cellphones and shouted greetings to the new cardinal, who blessed the crowd as the caravan rolled by.
Martinez Flores, who had been named metropolitan archbishop of Asuncion in February, arrived in his homeland at around 5.15 am local time. A children’s chorus and a local delegation in Luque greeted him at the airport and presented him with a silver filigree crucifix that he immediately placed around his neck.
“I truly wasn’t expecting a welcome like this,’ the cardinal told a crowd of reporters awaiting him at the airport, adding that with the appointment the pope had rendered a “homage of love” to Paraguay.
In a ceremony in Asuncion attended by representatives of President Mario Abdo Benitez’s administration and Paraguayan and foreign dignitaries, Martinez said it was a moving experience to speak briefly with the pope and receive the red birretta and cardinal’s ring at a papal consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica last Saturday.
“He asked me, ‘Did you bring me chipa?” the new cardinal recalled, referring to small, baked, cheese-flavored rolls made with yucca or tapioca starch that are a common snack in Paraguay.
“I actually gave it to him later, because I couldn’t trade a ring for chipa right then and there,” Martinez joked, eliciting laughter from the crowd at the ceremony.
In a speech in which he offered thanks to the country’s bishops, the faithful and members of the media, Martinez recalled that “this thing about Paraguay waiting 475 years for a cardinal had gone global.”
“The Church and the Paraguayan people came together and assumed as their own this gift Pope Francis has given us of creating the first cardinal born in this beautiful land,” he said.
Referring to his new role, Martinez Flores said he will have the challenge of being a “focal point of support, a bridge, a factor in bringing people together (and fostering) dialogue and understanding among Paraguayans.”
For his part, the apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, Eliseo Ariotti, said the new cardinal will make the “historic bond between the Holy See and Paraguay even stronger.”
He also recalled that Thursday’s ceremony took place in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Asuncion, which was created 475 years ago as the Diocese of Paraguay by Pope Paul III and was the first of its kind in South America’s Southern Cone.
“We who had seen ourselves an afterthought, with your appointment as cardinal, have been invited to an exalted seat,” the bishop of the diocese of San Pedro, Paraguay, Canadian-born Paraguayan Pierre Jubinville, said for his part at the ceremony.
Martinez Flores, who was born in Asuncion on July 8, 1951, was ordained as a priest on Aug. 24, 1985. EFE