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Pope Francis’ Fellowship of the Ring

Pope Francis’ Fellowship of the Ring

AFP/ Gabriel Bouys

Fr Dwight Longenecker - published on 12/05/13

Has anyone else noticed that, with the Pope, there are nine members in Francis' new advisory council? Francis holds the fisherman's ring, so he's Pope Frodo - it works.
Yesterday Pope Francis’ advisory council of eight cardinals met for the second round of meetings. Media commentators have called his council the G-8–which seems rather unimaginative.

Has anyone else noticed that, with the Pope, there are nine members? As Elrond in the Lord of the Rings says, “Nine Companions. You shall be called the Fellowship of the Ring.” I’m of the opinion that the nine members of Pope Francis’ council have much more in common with the Fellowship of the Ring than some sort of global economic forum.

To allow my Franciscan fancy to run away with me, let us consider the resemblance for a moment. Like the members of Tolkien’s fellowship, the nine have been summoned from every corner of the earth and from every race. They are embarking on a perilous and dangerous journey: to reform the Catholic Church. They set out with faith but uncertainty. As Frodo says at the Council of Elrond: “I will take the ring…but I do not know the way.” Together they have the character, skills and experience to undertake the great quest, but their mettle will only be tried and their skills used as they go forward. Together they bear the ring of power – the fisherman’s ring – but the difference is that this ring of power, forged in that battle with the evil Sauron Satan so long ago, is a ring that has already been purified by the fire and reclaimed for the good.

Who are the members of this Fellowship of the Fisherman’s Ring? Forget about what they look like, otherwise the tall and noble Cardinal Pell would have to be Gandalf. Instead consider their characters and let us start with Pope Francis. He’s the ring bearer, so he must be Frodo. Pope Frodo? It works.

Then we have his faithful and stalwart friend–the second fiddle, the supporter and loyal backer. I’m putting 
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai into this role. Cardinal Gracias is a humble priest, a loyal soldier of the Lord and a faithful, if somewhat unexciting servant. He’s a tough cancer survivor. He can be Cardinal Sam.

Who are the other two hobbits
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising in Germany must get the vote as Pippin. He’s the youngest cardinal, and like Pippin, the unpredictable joker in the pack. Rumor has it that he is in favor of a more lax discipline for remarried divorced people, is happy for women’s ordination to be an open question and is willing to “pray for” same sex couple’s relationship. Accused of left wing political views, is the scamp Cardinal Pippin related to Groucho Marx or Karl?

That brings us to Meriadoc. Merry is the faithful, cheerful helper. He’s a rock in the storm and the reliable friend. Let’s give this hobbit hat to 
Cardinal Guiseppe Bertollo. Bertollo is the only Italian in the fellowship and a lifelong Vatican diplomat. A faithful servant and a compassionate helper–he helped reconcile warring factions in genocide-torn Africa, Cardinal Merry, with his humble, friendly manner and helpful spirit can’t help but remind us of the efficient and faithful Vatican diplomat servant of God 
Cardinal Merry del Val.

Cardinal George Pell must be Gimli the indomitable dwarf. How can the tallest of the Cardinals be a dwarf? There is the mystery of paradox, for the dwarf Gimli, though short of stature was stout of heart. In school Cardinal Gimli played ruckman–the tallest bruiser on the Australian rugby team. He was even offered a contract with a professional squad before he chose to be God’s bruiser. The no nonsense, “What are we waiting for?” cardinal from Australia adds muscle to the Pope’s fellowship.

Keep reading on the next page

The quiet, spiritual, self effacing yet courageous 
Cardinal Sean O’Malley is Legolas the warrior elf. The archer in mythology is also the messenger, and Cardinal O’Malley is famous for being a blogger and podcaster. A quiet and alert watchman, Cardinal Legolas will bring a warm spirituality, a keen eye and a sharp intellect to the fellowship of the Fisherman’s ring.

I’m electing 
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya to stand for Aragorn. The African cardinal was not exactly a king, but he was chosen to serve as the interim ruler of Zaire when his country was going through a time of crisis. Furthermore, the urbane and polished Archbishop is from the royal family of the Basakata tribe and his name “monsengwo” means “relative of the chief.” Not exactly Son of Arathorn and heir of Isildur, but a splendid moniker all the same. It will do.

Cardinal Francisco Javier Ossa gets the wizard’s hat. He is not only the oldest and most experienced member of the fellowship, but he is also a mentor and old friend of Pope Francis. A retired Archbishop of Santiago in Chile, he shares the pope’s vision for the church and in many ways helped to inspire it. Cardinal Gandalf brings gravitas, wisdom and strength to the council. I’m afraid the Cardinal from Chile is clean shaven and there is no evidence of either a pipe or a fondness for fireworks.

This leaves us with the problematic Boromir. A well intentioned, strong and faithful member of the fellowship, Boromir falls prey to the wrong priorities. He wants to do his best, but he tries to take the ring of power and use it to do good in the wrong way. 
Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Honduras will have to play Boromir. Some observers of the church believe Cardinal Maradiaga, full of good intentions, sails too close to Marxism and liberation theology. They worry that, like Boromir, he is too prone to do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

Happily, my analysis of the Fellowship of the Fisherman’s Ring is not infallible truth. Use the embedded links to learn more about the cardinals who are helping the pope bring positive change to the church and pray that they might be guided to decide to do what is right with the time that is given to them.

Fr Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville, South Carolina. Visit his blog, browse his books and be in touch at

CatholicismPope FrancisVatican
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