Has this guy been great early, or what?
Archbishop Joe Cardinal Tobin showed up in a snowstorm last Friday in Newark looking like a longshoreman who had just blown in off the docks. If he caught a loose elbow in the media scrum he looked like he could knock someone’s block off.
But that’s not who he is, clearly, because on this snowy morning the cardinal went to the side of Catalino Guerrero, a Mexican immigrant in this country for decades summoned by ICE to the federal building to account for his residency in this new undocumented crackdown era of President Donald J. Trump.
“What you’re doing is you’re putting a face on what is treated as statistics, or as demons,” Tobin told reporters. “You can see what Catalino looks like and you’ve heard how he lives.”
Spiritual leader of 1.6 million North Jersey Catholics, the cardinal’s voice was commanding, not simpering; strong not apologetic.
One of just 120 cardinals worldwide, he sounded like the kind of leader the Catholic Church needs in these parts after scandal after scandal essentially reduced it to ashes, but for the rank and file nobility of those people who have always carried it: the mostly unheralded and unsupported priests and brothers and nuns and lay people.
A native of Detroit with a social justice background, Tobin took charge of the Newark see in January, replacing Archbishop John J. Myers, who unsuccessfully tried to manage a priest sex scandal then ate a wave of appalling headlines after The New York Times reported on the man of God’s $776,700 retirement home.
Elevated to cardinal by Pope Francis in January, Tobin on that day spoke to what he described as bridging the divide between our spiritual and social selves, targeting “a growing trend that seems to isolate us, convincing us to neatly compartmentalize our life, subtly seducing us to go to Mass on Sunday, and for the rest of the week, do whatever we think we need to get by.” In his first interviews leading up to his promotion by the pope, he has consistently underscored his mission to be a champion of the people – especially the poor and immigrants.
So far he’s visible and down to earth, the opposite of the icy ivory tower prelate routinely and probably rightly demonized in popular culture. He walked the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce train on his second month on the job, navigating with little apparent difficulty that traveling Stag at Sharkey’s that deposits passengers in Union Station like off-loaded 3 a.m. bar stools.
He walked into the ballroom at the Marriott Wardman looking like the last dignified man in the house, but still regular.
“I thought getting elevated to cardinal was the peak experience of my life,” he told the roomful of debauchery.
“And then there was the train,” he added.
It was the best received line of the night.
But that appearance at the side of Catalino Guerrro last Friday showed that the cardinal means to be far more than an entertaining social companion for politicians.
He will demand of them.
And he will take a lead role on those pressing issues of our time, refusing, in his own words, to compartmentalize the Gospel.
There was a moment Friday morning that stood out.
As Catalino Guerrero walked toward the federal building at the head of large group of social justice activists to make his scheduled appointment with ICE, the media couldn’t get a clear shot at the end of the block, its view of the action obscured by the tall broad shouldered guy in black.
“Yo,” someone shouted.
“Yo, dude. Down front. Out of the way. Yo! Yo!”
“Sir!’ someone else yelled in desperation.
Steve Sandberg, the savvy communications director for U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, looked over at the reporters and news cameras and said, “Guys, he’s a cardinal.”
Tobin turned for a half second and let out a big laugh.
“Cardinal! Cardinal!” a news cameraman screamed, adjusting with Sandberg’s entreaty but still trying no less frantically to line up the shot and get the oncoming marchers.
But Tobin didn’t need the exhortation.
The new Cardinal of the Newark Archdiocese had already fallen into line with Menendez and Archange Antoine and the marchers in the driving snow and rain, at the side of Catalino Guerrero.
For more on this important story, please take time to watch correspondent Brenda Flanagan’s comprehensive look at Catalino Guerrero here.
For InsiderNJ’s coverage, please go here.