ATCHISON — It’s not often that a French cardinal leads a chant and response at a Lansing prison or answers KU students’ questions about the news with a scriptural meditation on the Magnificat.
But it’s not often that Cardinal Philippe Barbarin visits Kansas, either.
Cardinal Barbarin, archbishop emeritus of Lyons, France, last visited in December 2021, and made a return visit from Feb. 8-17 so that he could deliver a lecture on the life of Pope Benedict XVI at Benedictine College in Atchison.
In both cases, the cardinal was hosted by the Community of the Lamb in Kansas City, Kansas.
Asked what he appreciated most about his visit this year, Cardinal Barbarin said he was impressed with his visit to Benedictine.
“I was very touched to see this place where the monks live where the students are, and where the families of the faculty are all a part of this intellectual endeavor to work on their faith intellectually, but also to live it out,” he said. “It’s a promise — a promise of hope for the future and for the church.”
He brought that hope to other parts of the archdiocese, including Lansing Correctional Facility on Feb. 10. More than 150 inmates came to visit him and the cardinal gave them a stirring talk, in which he had them repeat the words of St. John Paul II: “Open wide the doors of your heart to Christ!”
The inmates roared back the phrase, and when they were challenged with “You all said the words. But who here really meant it?,” every prisoner raised a hand.
On Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the cardinal presided at a healing Mass at Queen of the Holy Rosary Church in Overland Park. Mike Scherschligt of the Holy Family School of Faith helped promote it, and some 1,200 people attended. So many lined up to receive the anointing of the sick that, even with two additional priests helping, it took 25 minutes to get through the line.
The Little Sisters of the Lamb said it was moving to see people touched and healed by the cardinal.
“We are very far from Rome, and with his visit, you really feel that Mother Church is close to us through him and in him,” said Little Sister Marie-Jeanne. “He has such a care for everybody — the suffering, the sick, the elderly.”
On Feb. 16, Cardinal Barbarin met with students at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas. When a student asked him if they had discovered who set the fire at Notre Dame in Paris, the cardinal answered, “No, we don’t,” but then spoke about the Magnificat prayer in which Mary says, “All generations will call me blessed.”
“I thought of that as I saw that the whole world was watching and praying for Notre Dame — Our Lady — because of the fire,” he said.
The cardinal’s Benedictine College lecture was titled, “Farewell Benedict, the Friend of the Bridegroom.” In it, Cardinal Barbarin recalled the election of Benedict and some high points from his career.
He revealed fascinating details about life in the conclave and spoke about how the cardinals live in conclave, what they can discuss and what they can’t discuss, and how the voting is done and announced.
“April 16 was that Saturday,” he remembered. “It was the birthdate of Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI). So, we prepared this little card for him. He said, ‘I thank you for this very affectionate sign toward me. But I hope your trust for me ends here.’ But we didn’t obey him.”
The final vote took place in the Sistine Chapel, he said.
“There were two rows, face to face. Cardinal Ratzinger was close to the altar because he was the dean of the cardinals. The subdean went to him and said, ‘Do you accept?’ And he said, ‘I accept in obedience to the Holy Spirit, while knowing my own unworthiness.’ It was very beautiful and simple.”
Later, Cardinal Barbarin remembered, the new pope said, “The one thing that I ask you to pray for me is to see Christ and to see only Christ.”
Cardinal Barbarin said, “It was very profound. We knew it.”
The cardinal ate dinner with students and professors at Benedictine after his remarks.
Dr. Andrew Jaeger, an associate professor of philosophy at the college, said it was an honor he won’t soon forget.
“It was great having a private conversation with him, and hearing him share personal stories about his relationship with Cardinal Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar was incredible,” said Jaeger, naming two prominent theologians of the Second Vatican Council. “His simplicity also conveyed a profundity that is quite rare in the clergy, let alone academics.”
On Feb. 12, Cardinal Barbarin conferred the sacrament of confirmation at the Little Sisters of the Lamb monastery.
Jeremy Sienkiewicz, a Benedictine College theologian, was the father of one of the confirmandi. Many members of his family came from out of state to attend the event, and Sienkiewicz said that the cardinal made an impact on everyone as a man of faith.
“He is a living legacy — the embodiment of 20th-century theology. The people we teach about in class are people he hung out with,” he said. His homily for the confirmation was remarkable, he added. “He was a living believer. He had faith. It was beautiful.”
His daughter, Lucy Sienkiewicz, was one of four girls who were confirmed by the cardinal.