Of Robert Card. Sarah

Everything that I know and am learning about Robert Card. Sarah suggests to me that he may be a Great Man. He is at least what Italians refer to as “un signore”.

First, read his exceptional book. A priest friend of mine recently gave a parish retreat in which he drew on the Cardinal’s book. Not only read this book, buy multiple copies and give them to every priest you can find. You might be interested to know that not long ago the Nuncio to these USA wrote to the bishops with his offer to send a copy of Sarah’s book to all their seminarians. Only one bishop declined. I’ll not publish his name. Let his name be forgotten to the ages. But I digress.


Now that you have read his book.

Here is a piece in the UK’s best Catholic weekly (coincidentally I write a weekly column) The Catholic Herald.

It includes an important point… how properly to pronounce his name!

The unstoppable rise of Cardinal Sarah

The cardinal from a remote African village has become a standard bearer for Catholic orthodoxy in a Church where many things now seem uncertain

is often said that once a new pope has emerged on to the loggia of St Peter’s, the cardinals’ thoughts turn almost immediately to the question of his successor. Pope Francis, although about to turn 80 at the end of this year, does not seem ready to run out of steam. Despite having part of a lung missing, he seems undiminished by a daunting schedule, which in fact he seems to relish. This, along with his obvious pleasure in his role, means that it is difficult to take quite seriously his own speculation that his papacy will be a short one. Nonetheless, nobody should be surprised that there is already much speculation about the identity of his successor.

Among the names being talked about is that of one cardinal elevated to the Sacred College by Benedict XVI, who is increasingly admired by those who wish to consolidate the legacy of the Pope Emeritus.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, relatively little known before the election of Pope Francis, has shown himself since as a key player in Rome. His name – pronounced Sar-AH and not like the English given name – reveals the French linguistic and cultural heritage which this son of the West African savannah imbibed at an early age from the Holy Ghost missionaries. Cardinal Sarah, a second-generation Christian, is a man who combines an authentic claim to come from the ecclesiastical margins so beloved of Pope Francis with a deep grasp of the cultural and theological patrimony which the old continent disseminated along with its political and economic hegemony.

We get a fascinating insight into both of these strains in his personality through his book-length interview with French author Nicholas Diat, published last year in English translation as God or Nothing. After a biographical section, where the cardinal traces his career from the early years in a round, one-room brick hut in rural Guinea which was his family’s only possession to his present position as head of the Vatican’s liturgy dicastery, the book offers reflections on the theological issues which today affect the Church’s internal cohesion as well as the vitality of its missionary outreach.

Both sections are inspiring, revealing Cardinal Sarah as a man of profound and serene contemplative temperament along with dynamic capacities for action and an astonishing courage which tackles controversial questions head-on.


It is difficult to imagine that those who desire to reinvigorate the theological legacy of Benedict XVI could gain so significant a victory in a conclave held now. Every consistory held under Pope Francis – and one is expected later this year – dilutes their strength within the Sacred College.

Cardinal Sarah’s outspokenness on issues such as homosexuality, which has become a shibboleth for Western secular morality, would mean that electing him would be seen as a direct challenge to what appears to be the emerging world order. Not all cardinals are ready for this. [But such a timely testosterone booster is exactly what the College needs.] When he compared Western liberal ideas on sex and gender to Nazi propaganda and Islamist terror, he infuriated liberals, who see him as largely responsible for torpedoing efforts to get the synod to adopt “a more pastoral tone” on homosexuality. But he also probably scared off some conservatives who prefer a less confrontational approach.

One thing we have learnt in the last three years is that there are fewer certainties in the Church than we thought. I certainly won’t be putting money on having a pope from the West African savannah, but only a foolhardy pundit would rule it out. Cardinal Sarah is only nine years younger than Francis, so his eligibility will probably diminish if Francis remains as Pope beyond a few more years. That said, the prospect of a short reign can be seen as an advantage in a fraught situation – this was certainly the case for Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005. Still, whoever emerges as pope from the next conclave, one thing I think we can be sure of is that the voice of Robert Sarah will be listened to in its deliberations.

Read the whole thing there.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Michael says:

    I am looking forward to his keynote at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

  2. Eugene says:

    Had lunch with a priest friend, who knows Card. Taigle very well and when I asked him what the Cardinal thought about the focus/pronouncements of this pontificate, my friend’s response was “I do not like to talk about this, because this Cardinal (Taigle) is on his (Francis’) side”. Two things have stuck with me since our lunch, my priest friend was a HUGE fan of Card Taigle and now has been turned off by the Cardinal’s support of the Pope’s pronouncements on matters like the environment, something he feels the church should not be focusing on. The feelings of a religious order priest at the ground level have changed; is it indicative of a general change in the feelings towards this Pontiff and those who are his supporters…SO LET US ALL PRAY THAT COURAGEOUS AND TRUE SHEPHERDS LIKE CARD. SARAH WILL ONE DAY STEER THE SHIP AGAIN

  3. Geoffrey says:

    I am currently reading Cardinal Sarah’s book. It is indeed very good. I have been following His Eminence ever since his appointment to the CDWDS. A gift to the Church, he is.

  4. JesusFreak84 says:

    I’m more concerned about the next Conclave not being until holy men like Cardinal Sarah are past the voting age…

  5. anilwang says:

    Some factors not counted in the article is that at the next conclave, the next Pope would likely have to appeal to the large number of Pope John Paul II cardinals (i.e. strongly affirm the gospel of life), the Pope Benedict XVI cardinals (i.e. good liturgical sense), and the Pope Francis cardinals (i.e. not part of Europe and more likely in the fast growing mission fields), is one of the core curia positions, is friendly with Pope Francis, and is well known.

    There really aren’t too many papabile candidates that fit those criteria

    The only way this could radically change is if Pope Francis stays Pope for so long that the decades of Pope John Paul II cardinals become a minority due to retirement or if Pope Francis radically expands the number of cardinals or changes the conclave rules so that only the anti-Pope John Paul II cardinals and anti-Pope Benedict XVI cardinals could vote. I don’t see any of these things happening.

  6. HeatherPA says:

    We bought a copy for our priest months ago, and he has referenced it in at least three homilies since.
    Thank you, Father Z for giving us the heads up for this when it was published!

  7. Simon_GNR says:

    First: I’m always glad to know how to pronounce someone’s name correctly.
    Secondly: Cardinal Sarah seems to be a very sound man. He might make a good pope, but he’s already in his 70’s so maybe a bit too old. I think what the church needs is a young, energetic pope, like JPII was when he was elected. Sarah would have been the right age when BXVI was chosen – I think he’s just a bit too old now. [Says who?]

  8. momoften says:

    In my small world, I always thought how can an African Cardinal have a world view coming from
    such a country? But, then I started reading his book, and I know that he is a very wise man who indeed understands everything. He is a gift from God. I love the book more and more as I read it.
    He is my favorite Cardinal right now. Share the book with everyone, he is incredible.

  9. Mike says:

    “But he also probably scared off some conservatives who prefer a less confrontational approach.”

    To be “conservative” to the point of stifling one’s witness for the Faith conserves nothing but one’s place in Hell. May Cardinal Sarah’s example inspire us all to live, speak, and work courageously for the greater glory of God.

  10. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I was Sarah, when Sa-rah wasn’t cool. He has a Facebook page, most posts in French. Go over and friend him!

  11. Scott Woltze says:

    I can’t wait till the “God of Surprises” gives us a long Sarah pontificate. I would pay money to see the reaction of Danneels, Mahoney etc. [Better… let’s not hear their reactions at all.] Taigle and others will suddenly become more Catholic, oops, I mean, more Benedictine/Sarah. But what name will he choose? Gregory? Leo? Benedict? Pius? Maybe even Augustine I?

    Weary Catholics will decide that a few years of Francis was worth a long Sarah pontificate, if that’s how it had to be. My only sadness will be that the Church is obviously storm-tossed when we go from Ratzinger to Bergoglio to Sarah. The Church is still floundering to decide on the way to witness to a half-Enlightenment/half post-modern world. Hopefully Sarah will set the course once and for all.

  12. Persistant says:

    It was announced a few days ago that Cardinal Sarah will come to my hometown in late May to celebrate the feast day of our Lady, patroness of Zagreb. He will also hold a presentation of his book which will be published in Croatian. I’m really looking forward to it!

  13. mtpensaventus says:

    I betcha he was Confirmed by Archbishop Lefebvre… West Africa…Holy Ghost Fathers…

  14. Mike says:

    I betcha he was Confirmed by Archbishop Lefebvre… West Africa…Holy Ghost Fathers…

    That possibility had crossed my mind too, but no. From Chapter I of Cardinal Sarah’s God or Nothing:

    I was born on June 15, 1945, and I received the Sacrament of Confirmation on June 15, 1958, in Bingerville, at the hands of Archbishop Boivin of Abidjan. I was baptized at the age of two, on July 20, 1947, by a Holy Ghost Father, and I was ordained a priest on July 20, 1969, by another Spiritan, Bishop Raymond-Marie Tchidimbo.

    The only mention of Lefebvre in the Cardinal’s book seems to be a reference in Chapter III to the Archbishop’s missionary evangelization that (says the Cardinal) inspired Pope Pius XII’s 1957 encyclical Fidei donum.

  15. mburn16 says:

    Cardinal Sarah is not-quite-71…only a couple years older than Card. Burke. But I suspect Francis has diminished the odds of another Third-World Pope.

  16. Liam says:

    Here is the Lefebvre connection for Cardinal Sarah–

    Cardinal Sarah was ordained by Bishop Raymond-Marie Tchidimbo.

    The principle consecrator at the episcopal ordination of Msgr. Tchidimbo was Hyacinth Cardinal Thiandoum.

    Cardinal Thiandoum was ordained to the priesthood by Msgr. Lefebvre.

    Ergo, Sarah is certainly in the Lefebvre pedigree for Holy Orders.

    It is difficult to avoid a Lefebvre connection when dealing with mid-twentieth century French West Africa and the Holy Ghost Fathers.

  17. CharlesG says:

    Cardinal Sarah is wonderful, but all this promotion seems a bit like unseemly politicking. On the other hand, if the “Team Bergoglio” cardinals can have been so utterly shameless in pushing their man, perhaps it behooves the orthodox cardinals to be a bit more organized. No doubt even now, shady conventicles of “Team Tagle” are meeting in some new Sankt Gallen…

  18. Geoffrey says:

    “Ergo, Sarah is certainly in the Lefebvre pedigree for Holy Orders.”

    Lefebvre died an excommunicate. I would not be too fond of such a “pedigree”.

  19. mtpensaventus says:

    Fascinating connections of Cardinal Sarah and Archbishop Lefebvre, everyone. Thanks for sharing those (seriously)!!! Before some criticize Cardinal Sarah for being a Lefebvrite, or criticize the Cardinal’s pedigree, we musn’t forget that the Archbishop was the Apostolic Delegate to Dakar and principal adviser to Pope Pius XII on his encyclical Fidei Donum (about missionary work in Africa). Regardless of how you feel of the SSPX, it’s quite unfair in my opinion to degrade or disregard the wonderful work that the Archbishop did [at least] until the Consecrations of Bishops Fellay, &c.

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