“It had been nearly 160 years since the Order of Friars Minor Conventual had a Cardinal. The last one was in 1861, the Sicilian Father Antonio Maria PANEBIANCO, who received the purple from Pius IX. Now, Pope Francis shall impose the biretta on the head of Father Mauro GAMBETTI, Custos of the Sacred Convent of Assisi” (L’Osservatore Romano, October 26, 2020, p. 3).

“I read those words with deep emotion. They were published in the Vatican newspaper the day after the Pope announced the new appointments of cardinals. I had always been convinced that I would never see a cardinal in the Order of Friars Minor Conventual in my lifetime, just as entire generations of our predecessors had not seen one for many decades. Today I am lucky enough to see ‘our cardinal’ and to speak with him and I take great joy and satisfaction in doing so. Therefore, let me cordially ask Your Eminence to open your heart to your confreres and tell us about your life; share your thoughts and Franciscan experience with us. I think we greatly need such a ‘self-introduction’ from our Cardinal.”
“Perhaps no one expected a cardinal to be created in our religious family: a long time had passed since the last case. It was certainly unthinkable that it could happen to me: I wasn’t a bishop, I’ve always been outside the world of prelate offices and not very interested in it. I don’t have a doctorate in theology—in short, it was a surprise! I would really like to start with the amazement I have felt. It is similar to what I felt every so often during the course of almost my thirty years at the Sacred Convent, when I witnessed the miracle of fraternity taking place every day, among friars who loved each other. In both cases we are talking about an extraordinary gift that was not only undeserved, but also unexpected.”

“First, let me ask you: What image do you have of your family? What human and Christian values have you taken from your family?”
“My family is traditional, rooted in Christian values. My parents were impacted by the Second World War so they devoted a lot of energy toward building a better future for society and for my brother and me in particular. They worked hard, with fidelity and a spirit of sacrifice, in order to carry out the mission they embraced. It moves me and edifies me when I think of how my parents devoted their lives entirely to the family while still being attentive to the community, whether it was the ecclesial or civic one. My father was a local businessman. He passed on to me his taste for mechanics, for being inventive and working with his hands, as well as his taste for agriculture and working the land, because he came from a farming background. My mom, on the other hand, was passionate, generous and very sensitive. She could get angry, but she could also be very caring and tender. I find both of those dimensions in myself: a passion that underlies my humanity and helps me articulate and express it, but also a pragmatism and a talent for systematizing and organizing. In matters of the spirit, and in my duties regarding service, these two aspects have always guided and helped me. The way my parents were different and yet complimented each other was what gave me both approaches to life. Then, too, I can never forget their faith.”

“When did you first become aware you had a vocation to religious life? Do you have any particular experiences or memories? Why the Conventual Franciscans?”
“My vocation story started when I was about eleven. I had felt the call to the priesthood when one day, the pastor of my parish said: “If any of you want to enter the seminary, tell me!” and it seemed like he was talking right to me. Later, I explored other paths because I wasn’t sure that this call would make me happy. I was probably just scared. Therefore, I turned away from the Church. Then, when I was twenty, I got engaged. This was a fundamental experience and prompted me to look for God again: love made me open to Love. In the meantime, I had chosen to study engineering in Bologna because it was closely linked to my father’s business. I returned to the Faith. One day, while I was heading to the university, I passed in front of the Basilica of San Francesco and went inside for confession. I found a friar who, after hearing my confession, asked me if I had ever thought of consecrating myself. I immediately joked that I already had a meaningful bond with my fiancée, but the question stayed with me. Eventually, I attended a vocation camp in Assisi, and at a certain point, I felt that God was definitely calling me. As soon as I graduated, I entered the friary.”

“Looking back, how do you view and evaluate your religious formation and priestly ministry? Were there only highs, or were there perhaps some setbacks or defeats?”
“If there weren’t any failures or defeats you would have to ask yourself if you were really on the right path. I have experienced failure in both ministry and formation. Sometimes it was due to my mistakes and sometimes it was due to the circumstances at the time or because of the choices others made. I believe I received a solid formation in religious life, so much so, that crises have always appeared as challenges to me; as St. Francis would say: ‘Such is the good which I await, that every pain delights me,’ and: ‘Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord our God, for up to now we have done little!’ I am very pleased with the path that has been set before me and with the formators who have guided me. Fraternal relations have been a decisive factor for me. I have always felt part of a family and this has really helped me follow Jesus in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi. It is demanding, but wonderful and priceless. Even in ministry, relationships with people have been the style and substance of my priesthood and have led me to discover more about the priestly heart of Jesus.”

“What aspects of Franciscan spirituality impress and fascinate you?”
“I have always been fascinated by Francis’ freedom, which I think came from his recognition of God as both Absolute and Infinite Tenderness. I was also impressed by Franciscan humility and simplicity, the attentiveness to the people, especially the poor, and that dialogic style that expresses respect and welcome and helps build fraternal relationships and peace.”

“At this point, I cannot help but ask a question about our Father Maximilian Kolbe, a saint for our time, a ‘Francis of the 20th century,’ and for us, a model of consecrated life. What can we learn from him? How can we embody his charism today?
“I first heard about St. Maximilian Kolbe when I entered the postulancy program. I always admired him. However, it was only when I went on a pilgrimage to Poland, to the important places in his life, that I grasped the depth of his charism: his total immersion in God and in the heart of the Immaculate Conception; his complete dedication to the apostolate, along with his brothers; and his supreme gesture of giving his life to save a father of a family. This would seem to be the fulfillment and extension of a mission of love: he gave his life so that another could continue to live for his own children. In our day, I believe we should treasure his determination to pursue the purpose of Christian existence: to hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom by spreading love, without being distracted by useless arguments, worldly attractions or partisan claims and interests.”

“Your Eminence, when, and under what circumstances, did you learn that Pope Francis had called you to a new ministry in the Church?”
“It happened in a very nice way, just after noon, on October 25, 2020. I was talking to someone when my phone started to ring persistently. I looked at who the call came from and I saw that among the many calls I had received, there was one from the Bishop of Assisi. I immediately thought something serious must have happened, because at that time there was a Mass going on in the Upper Basilica for the 34th anniversary of the historic ‘Spirit of Assisi’, meeting, which John Paul II convened in October of 1986, to pray for peace. The Bishop of Assisi should have been presiding over that Mass, but he was unable to at the time because he had been put under precautionary quarantine. He had called me two days earlier and asked me to ‘take care of it, because as you know I can’t come.’ However, because I had other commitments, I delegated it to a confrere. There were supposed to be TV stations and journalists at the Mass, so I thought there must have been some kind of trouble.  I said goodbye to the person I was talking to and intended to call the bishop back, but my phone started ringing again. This time it was a friend calling who had booked a flight for me for the next day. I answered his call thinking he was going to tell me the trip was canceled due to Covid. He immediately started saying ‘Congratulations! Congratulations!’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He had just heard my name during the Angelus in which the Pope announced the new cardinals.”

“Yes, ‘there are turning points in life, which sometimes involve taking leaps,’ to quote what you said during your Episcopal Ordination on November 22, 2020. ‘What I am experiencing now, I consider as a dive from the springboard into the open sea, while I hear myself repeating: “duc in altum,”’ [put out into the deep]. What did you think and feel about being appointed a cardinal?”
“Learning the news of my appointment this way was an enormous surprise and I felt sort of dizzy. Then, my amazement was joined by a spreading sense of lightness, connected to the principle of absolute freedom: the Pope’s freedom in choosing and announcing the names of the new cardinals; my freedom in experiencing the situation with the simplicity of a child; and above all, God’s freedom, who weaves the threads of history with total sovereignty. For this reason, I smiled, thinking of Pope Francis, his ironic look and his thinking of me, and then I found myself being catapulted into another world of which I knew almost nothing—and I entrusted myself with all my being to the will of God.”

“Pope Francis has entrusted Your Eminence with the offices of Vicar General of His Holiness for Vatican City, Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter’s in the Vatican, and President of the Fabric of St. Peter. With what spirit and vision do you plan to carry out these roles?”
“The tasks entrusted to me revolve around St. Peter’s Basilica, which preserves the memory and charism of the Apostle to whom Jesus entrusted the keys of the Kingdom and the mandate to feed his flock. The Basilica is the nerve center of Vatican City and the heart of the universal Church. I am called to help the Pope in the service of the spiritual life in both settings, especially by preserving, animating and seeking to enhance this place, which is visited by millions of people from all over the world. My closest collaborators in this work will be the members of the Fabric of St. Peter, the Chapter of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pastor of the Basilica. I intend to carry out this work in the evangelical spirit of the washing of feet, remaining clearly Franciscan, that is, minor, in order to loyally assist the Pope and help him realize the dream of Fratelli Tutti.”

“In his homily during your episcopal ordination, Agostino Cardinal VALLINI encouraged you to ‘always keep, even as a bishop and cardinal, a lifestyle that is simple, open…a style of a true Franciscan.’ How will you try to use your experience as a Franciscan in your ministry as a cardinal?”
“The motto I chose for my episcopal coat of arms was taken from an eloquent passage in Francis’ Earlier Rule: Omnibus subiecti in Caritate (Be Subject to All in Charity). I would like to carry out my ministry as a cardinal by virtue of this evangelical principle, which lets you meet people without bias or prejudice, in order to win them over to the love of Christ. At one time, cardinals were greeted with the title of ‘Prince of the Church.’ Today, the use of this somewhat redundant appellation has ceased, but I hope that the hidden meaning of the term will remain alive in me, with the expectation that the dedication to the people that is asked of me will be increasingly like the royal style of Jesus.”

“What message would you like to send to the entire Order?”
“Since I was made a cardinal, these last months at the General Curia have given me an opportunity to experience, once again, what the Minister General wrote in his touching and generous letter to me on the day of my episcopal consecration, ‘Behind you there is an Order, a family, always ready to support and welcome you.’ To the Minister General, to the communities of the Twelve Holy Apostles and the Sacred Convent, to my religious Province, to you who have interviewed me so patiently, and to all the brothers of our Order, I would like to reiterate the profound gratitude that I feel for our history of fraternity, for those who have preceded us and for the ‘little giant,’ Francis of Assisi. I have the vivid hope that gratitude will become the dominant note of the entire Franciscan family during this historical transition, so that it may be accompanied by a growing gratuitousness and freedom in living the splendid vocation we have received.”

“In closing, I would like to ‘open my heart’ and share a personal memory. I remember well, that on the last day of the General Chapter in Collevalenza, June 15, 2019, ‘our cardinal,’ before returning to Assisi, approached me and spoke for a moment. You asked me if I had a lot of work as a translator, if I had too many translations to prepare, and if I was tired. This was our first face-to-face meeting and I must confess that you made a great impression on me. I was deeply touched by your natural openness, your benevolence and your simple brotherly attitude. I am grateful”
“I remember that fleeting exchange myself. I was struck by your discretion and your faithful and silent work for the fraternity gathered in Chapter. Like you, many other friars edified me with their love for the Order and the Kingdom of God. When I approached, I wanted to express my appreciation to you and to everyone. God bless you!”

“Thank you very much, Your Eminence, for your willingness to share your reflections and observations. I hope that our readers will enjoy familiarizing themselves with the contents and indications presented here. Moreover, I hope with all my heart that, as Pope Francis wrote in his Bull of Appointment (October 30 2020), ‘from your faithful ministry, the Church will obtain a richer benefit.’”

Rome, Friary of the Twelve Holy Apostles, July 08, 2021
Interviewer: Friar Sławomir Gajda, OFM Conv.


Mauro Cardinal GAMBETTI is the first Conventual Franciscan friar to be made a cardinal in 159 years. He was born on October 27, 1965, in Castel San Pietro Terme, Italy. After completing high school, he studied mechanical engineering at the University of Bologna. In 1992, he entered the Order of Friars Minor Conventual. He made his simple vows on August 29, 1995, and his solemn vows on September 20, 1998. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology at the Theological Institute of Assisi, he obtained a Licentiate Degree in Theological Anthropology at the Theological Faculty of Central Italy in Florence. He was ordained to the priesthood on January 8, 2000, in Longiano (Forlì-Cesena), Italy, where, residing at the Santissimo Croce Friary, he held the office of youth and vocation minister for Emilia-Romagna and from 2005 to 2009, also served as the guardian. In 2009, he was elected Minister Provincial of the Province of St. Anthony of Padua in Bologna. The Province later merged with the Province of Padua and today forms the Italian Province of St. Anthony of Padua (Northern Italy). On February 22, 2013, he was appointed Custos of the General Custody of the Sacred Convent of St. Francis in Italy (Assisi). At the same time, the Bishop of Assisi appointed him Episcopal Vicar for the pastoral care of the Papal Basilica of St. Francis and the other places of worship governed by our friars in the same diocese. In 2017, he was elected President of the Federazione Inter-mediterranea Ministri Provinciali (FIMP). On Sunday, October 25, 2020, at the Angelus, Pope Francis announced the appointment of Friar Mauro to the College of Cardinals. With his Bull of October 30, 2020, the Pontiff appointed him Titular Archbishop of Tisiduo (Tunisia). On November 22, 2020, Friar Mauro was ordained a bishop, and chose Omnibus subiecti in Caritate as his episcopal motto. On November 28, 2020, the Pope created him a cardinal and assigned him the Diaconate of the Church of Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano in Rome. On December 16, 2020, the Pope listed him among the members of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. On February 20, 2021, Friar Mauro was appointed Vicar General of His Holiness for Vatican City, Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter’s in the Vatican, and President of the Fabric of St. Peter. On May 25, 2021, he took possession of his titular church in Rome.