By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Ten years ago, when Maria “Matuca” Freitas hosted the bishop of the newly-established Mindelo Diocese in Cape Verde at her home in New Bedford, little did she know that he would one day become the first-ever cardinal named from her native Cape Verdean islands.
But earlier this month, Pope Francis announced that Arlindo Gomes Furtado, current Bishop of Santiago de Cabo Verde, would be the first cardinal appointed from the Portuguese-speaking archipelago.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Freitas recently told The Anchor. “Everybody is happy that they’ve appointed (Bishop Furtado) as a cardinal. The bishop is such a nice man.”
Bishop Furtado will be among 20 men elevated to the College of Cardinals at a February 14 consistory at the Vatican.
“He came here for the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in 2005,” Freitas said. “Everybody in the Cape Verdean community knows me so I had a big feast for him here at my house. We really enjoyed having him here (in our parish).”
Fellow parishioner Arlindo Rodrigues remembers joking with the bishop about them sharing the same first name.
“He’s very friendly; he almost seems like someone I knew before,” Rodrigues said. “We talked a lot about the Church and he was a very nice man. People find him easy to talk to.”
Although Rodrigues said Bishop Furtado doesn’t seem to him to be a “political person,” he thinks he will be a great cardinal for Cape Verde.
“I am excited that he’s going to be a cardinal,” he said. “He’s a very good man and very humble.”
Father Stan Kolasa, SS.CC., director of the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham, was serving as pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish at the time.
“He’s a lovely, simple man,” Father Kolasa said. “I’m delighted, of course, that he’s been named a cardinal because he’s a good priest and a good bishop. That he’s (a native) of Cape Verde is also good; but I think it’s more important that he’s a good priest and bishop.”
Father John Sullivan, pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Wareham, which also boasts a significant number of Cape Verdean parishioners, recently reported the good news in his weekly bulletin.
Of the 20 new cardinal-designates, Father Sullivan noted that Bishop Furtado is one of three who hails from a relatively small diocese.
“Santiago de Cabo Verde is smaller than our own diocese,” Father Sullivan said. “I feel it is an important gesture from the pope to include new cardinals who come from dioceses that aren’t historically recognized or are from areas that aren’t large cities, but rural or not otherwise believed to be large centers of Catholic life.”
Despite Cape Verde’s size, with just about half-a-million inhabitants, it is estimated that an impressive 90 percent of the population on the chain of islands located 400 miles off the coast of West Africa is Roman Catholic.
“I think it’s wonderful that this is happening for Cape Verde and it’s great that the country is being recognized,” said Beverly Rideaux, a Cape Verdean descendant and parishioner at St. Anthony’s Parish in Mattapoisett. “I’m very proud of the fact that (Bishop Furtado) is the first-ever cardinal from Cape Verde. I would say any way that we can spread God’s message and Jesus’ love, to me, is very important. It’s quite an honor and I’m sure the residents there must be so proud that this has happened to their small country.”
“The Cape Verdean people all have a deep faith — that’s what we feel,” added Freitas. “I talked to some of my friends in Cape Verde, and they said they are all very happy about Bishop Furtado becoming a cardinal.”
In a telephone interview from his diocese, based in the Cape Verde capital, Praia, Cardinal-designate Furtado recently told Catholic News Service he had no idea Pope Francis was going to name him a cardinal January 4: “It was a complete and total surprise,” he said.
The 65-year-old said he believes he was chosen because of the history of the Catholic Church in his Portuguese-speaking country. The diocese, based in the capital, is one of the oldest dioceses in Africa, he said, adding, “I believe it was time for a cardinal to be chosen from here.”
The cardinal-designate said of his appointment: “It will be a challenge, I am sure, but with the help of God and my community I will try to further the teachings of the Lord.”
This is the first time the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde will have a cardinal, let alone one of its native sons.
Bishop Arlindo Gomes Furtado was born Nov. 15, 1949, in Santa Catarina, on the largest island of the Cape Verde archipelago. He pursued his theological studies in Portugal, and returned to Cape Verde where he was ordained a priest July 18, 1976.
He obtained his licentiate in Scripture at Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute.
He was a professor, a parish priest and diocesan vicar general until 2003, when Pope John Paul II named him bishop of the newly-established Mindelo Diocese. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to his current post as bishop of the Santiago Diocese.
On his Facebook page, Cape Verde Prime Minister Jose Maria Neves congratulated the cardinal-designate.
“I felt an enormous pride and my heart filled with joy upon receiving the news of his nomination,” he said. “It is a moment of great jubilation for the entire Cape Verde nation.”
“It’s a marvelous celebration for the Cape Verdean people,” Father Kolasa agreed. “But I think it’s good for the whole Church, too. I think it’s an ecclesial delight because Pope Francis has really chosen some good, holy men” to become cardinals.
With contributions from CNS wire reports.