Cardinal cut: Italy’s tailor to the stars of the Church

Raniero Mancinelli cannot afford to drop a stitch. Pope Francis is creating five new cardinals next week and the race is on to have their scarlet robes ready in time.

Cardinal cut: Italy's tailor to the stars of the Church
Italian tailor Raniero Mancinelli, 80, working on a cardinal robe. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
The Italian tailor's family shop, located just outside the walls of Vatican City, hums to the sounds of customers from every corner of the Catholic world.
As a Filipino nun sizes up the least expensive chalice on offer from one display, a young Brazilian priest is buying reams of gold embroidery.
Nearby an Irish colleague is squeezing into a shiny liturgical robe that comes in just one size.
Mancinelli, who turns 80 next month, is on first name terms with many of his visitors. “You'll be the first black pope!”, he jokes with one African bishop, who shoots back, “I hope not!”
But there is little time for tomfoolery. In the workroom at the back of the shop the veteran craftsman's trusty “Necchi” sewing machine from the 1950s is waiting, and half-finished cassocks and mozzettas (short capes) hang from a rail.
The machine runs like a “Ferrari”, the outfitter says. But it still takes him at least a week to make each new bespoke robe.
Five new so-called “Princes of the Church” — from El Salvador, Laos, Mali, Spain and Sweden — will be created on Wednesday. Four of them have ordered their ceremonial garb from Mancinelli.
Scarlet silk
While some nipped over to the Italian capital after their nominations to submit to the tape measure, one future cardinal dispatched his personal secretary to the Eternal City with his measurements.
Sometimes Mancinelli's job is made easier when he has to dress longstanding customers for their big day, though he admits, “I still have to check the measurements a bit, to see if they've put on weight around the stomach!”
One key part of every outfit sits ready in a range of sizes on a shelf: the scarlet “biretta”, a four-peaked hat which each new cardinal will receive from the pope, who places it on their heads as they kneel before him.
Cassock, silk belt and mozzetta must be delivered to the Vatican a few days before the big event. The light, soft fabrics used must come from official suppliers and the colour must be exact: there is no picking any old scarlet.
Little luxuries which proud servants of God may have purchased to mark the occasion in the past are not as popular since the election in 2013 of a pope who called for “a poor Church for the poor”.
“They only buy the bare necessities now,” Mancinelli said.
“Under Pope Francis, the cardinals want things a little simpler. Before we only used silk, whereas now we mix silk and wool, fabrics that are a bit cheaper, a bit more modest”.
Sock fashion
When he became a bishop, the then Jorge Bergoglio sought out a simple metal cross from Mancinelli.
And since the Argentine's elevation to pope, the minimalist trend has caught on.
The heavy gold crosses set with precious stones on display in one of the shop's glass cases are on their way to becoming museum pieces. Some prelates even plump for modestly-priced wooden crosses.
Outfits generally have become less extravagant down the ages, particularly since the late 1960s.
Out have gone long capes, mantles and flat hats. Gone too are buckled shoes.
Long trains, still worn by the more audacious cardinals, are a rarity.
Most now plump for modern, plain shoes — and even the once-obligatory matching scarlet socks are optional.
As for the black non-ceremonial cassocks, they no longer have to sport 33 buttons, especially if the cardinal is short.
Mancinelli's proudest achievement is having once decked out 12 new cardinals at once, and he is not about to hang up his scissors.
“I dress them from the North Pole to the South Pole! Why should I put my sewing machine away?” he quips.


Pope Francis meets Viktor Orban in worldview clash

Pope Francis met with the anti-migration Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban behind closed doors on Sunday at the start of a brief visit to Budapest where he will also celebrate a mass. 

Pope Francis meets Viktor Orban in worldview clash
The Pope embarked on September 12 on his 34th international trip for a one-day visit to Hungary for an international Catholic event and a meeting with the country's populist leader, and a three-day visit to Slovakia. Photo: Tiziana FABI / AFP

The head of 1.3 billion Catholics — in Hungary to close the International Eucharistic Congress — met Orban, accompanied by Hungarian President Janos Ader, in Budapest’s grand Fine Arts Museum.

The Vatican television channel showed the pope entering the museum, but did not show images of the two men meeting, but Orban posted a photo of the two shaking hands on his Facebook page.

On one hand, Orban is a self-styled defender of “Christian Europe” from migration. On the other, Pope Francis urges help for the marginalised and those of all religions fleeing war and poverty.

But the pope’s approach to meet those who don’t share his worldview, eminently Christian according to the pontiff, has often been met with incomprehension among the faithful, particularly within the ranks of traditionalist Catholics.

Over the last few years, there has been no love lost between Orban supporters in Hungary and the leader of the Catholic world.

Pro-Orban media and political figures have launched barbs at the pontiff calling him “anti-Christian” for his pro-refugee sentiments, and the “Soros Pope”, a reference to the Hungarian-born liberal US billionaire George Soros, a right-wing bete-noire.

‘Not here for politics’

From early Sunday, groups of pilgrims from around the country, some carrying signs with their hometowns written on them, were filing under tight security toward the vast Heroes’ Square in Budapest, where the pontiff will say mass to close the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.

“We are not here for any politics, but to see and hear the pope, the head of the Church. We can hardly wait to see him. It is wonderful that he is visiting Budapest,” Eva Mandoki, 82, from Eger, some 110 kilometres (70 miles) east of the capital, told AFP.

Eyebrows have also been raised over the pontiff’s whirlwind visit.

His seven-hour-long stay in 9.8-million-population Hungary will be followed immediately by an official visit to smaller neighbour Slovakia of more than two days.

“Pope Francis wants to humiliate Hungary by only staying a few hours,” said a pro-Orban television pundit.

Born Jorge Bergoglio to a family of Italian emigrants to Argentina, the pope regularly reminds “old Europe” of its past, built on waves of new arrivals.

And without ever naming political leaders he castigates “sovereigntists” who turn their backs on refugees with what he has called “speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934”.

In April 2016, the pope said “We are all migrants!” on the Greek island of Lesbos, gateway to Europe, bringing on board his plane three Syrian Muslim families whose homes had been bombed.

‘Hungary Helps’

In contrast, Orban’s signature crusade against migration has included border fences and detention camps for asylum-seekers and provoked growing ire in Brussels.

Orban’s supporters point instead to state-funded aid agency “Hungary Helps” which works to rebuild churches and schools in war-torn Syria, and sends doctors to Africa.

Orban’s critics, however, accuse him of using Christianity as a shield to deflect criticism and a sword to attack opponents while targeting vulnerable minorities like migrants.

Days before the pope’s arrival posters appeared on the streets of the Hungarian capital — where the city council is controlled by the anti-Orban opposition — reading “Budapest welcomes the Holy Father” and showing his quotes including pleas for solidarity and tolerance towards minorities.

During the pope’s stay in Budapest he will also meet the country’s bishops, and representatives of various Christian congregations, as well as leaders of the 100,000-strong Hungarian Jewish community, the largest in Central Europe.

Orban — who is of Calvinist Protestant background — and his wife — who is a Catholic — are to attend the mass later Sunday.

Around 75,000 people have registered to attend the event, with screens and