Francis chooses new cardinals from the margins

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If any other pope had produced a list of newly designated cardinals similar to the one Pope Francis unveiled Sunday, the reaction would have been shock and disbelief.

Instead, there was only momentary surprise.

Cardinals for the first time in ecclesiastical backwaters such as Tonga, Myanmar, Panama and Cape Verde? Only one Roman Curia official on the list? Still not a single American named by Francis? And two of Italy's traditional "cardinal sees," Turin and Venice, snubbed for Ancona and Agrigento, places that haven't been by led by a prelate with a red hat in 100 years?

Welcome to the Era of Francis. The 78-year-old Jesuit pope announced the names of 15 new cardinal-electors and five other non-voters over the age of 80 who will become cardinals Feb. 14 at the Vatican.

His choices speak of a preference for those on the peripheries and the men who pastor them, those who are on the margins of the church and society.

Among the electors, five come from Europe, three from Asia and Latin America, and two from Oceania and Africa. Four are from religious orders. Nine of them are or have been elected presidents of their respective national episcopal conferences. Only six were appointed to their current posts by Pope Benedict XVI, while another six were placed there by John Paul II and the remaining three by Francis.

Prelates at the helm of a number of major archdioceses and some Vatican offices, all usually led by cardinals, were denied red hats. Instead, Francis will place them on the heads of bishops to whom Roman officials don't usually defer. They will now.

Here they are and why they were chosen.

Five Europeans

Dominique Mamberti, 63, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura

A native of French Corsica and a Rome-trained career papal diplomat, Mamberti was appointed bishop by John Paul II. But Pope Francis named him to his current post, traditionally headed by a cardinal, in November after his time as Vatican "foreign minister" by appointment of Benedict XVI. For the first time in recent memory, Mamberti's the lone Curia official to become a cardinal in a consistory.

Manuel Mácario do Nascimento Clemente, 66, patriarch of Lisbon, Portugal

John Paul II named this theologian and former seminary rector an auxiliary bishop of Lisbon in 1999, but Pope Francis appointed him patriarch in May 2013. He is one of only a few of the new electors in a diocese traditionally headed by a cardinal. By traditional protocol, Clemente's induction into the College of Cardinals was expected. As the current president of the Portuguese bishops' conference, he attended October's extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family.

Edoardo Menichelli, 75, archbishop of Ancona-Osimo, Italy

Since the 16th century, numerous cardinals have headed this ancient diocese on Italy's Adriatic Coast, but none in the last hundred years. From 1968 to 1994, the newly announced cardinal worked in the Vatican, where he became a protégé and former personal secretary of the legendary Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, one of the post-Vatican-II era's finest church diplomats (from the "Casaroli school"). John Paul II appointed Menichelli a bishop in 1994 and put him his current post in 2004, parking him in what was at that time a decidedly non-cardinalatial see. He attended the extraordinary synod as one of the 26 people appointed by Pope Francis.

Francesco Montenegro, 68, archbishop of Agrigento, Italy

The first cardinal-archbishop of this ancient Sicilian diocese since 1786, Montenegro is a former president of Caritas Italiana and is currently head of the Italian bishops' commission for migrants. Benedict XVI appointed him archbishop of Agrigento in 2008. Within his diocese is the island of Lampedusa, the dramatic point of arrival for many refugee "boat people" from North Africa and the place where Pope Francis made his first pastoral visit outside of Rome.

Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, 72, archbishop of Vallodolid, Spain

A theological moderate and perennial counterweight to Spain's more doctrinally conservative and socially combative prelates, the new cardinal-designate is currently serving his second nonconsecutive term as president of the national episcopal conference. First named bishop by John Paul II and appointed to his current post in 2010 by Benedict XVI, he is another surprising choice for the red hat. Blázquez is only the third archbishop of Vallodolid (established in the 16th century) to become a cardinal, and the first since 1919.

Three Asians

Pierre Nguyên Van Nhon, 76, archbishop of Hanoi, Vietnam

This is sixth time the church in Vietnam has seen one of its own become a cardinal since the country's first red hat in 1976. But it is the first time in a decade that a cardinal will lead the Hanoi archdiocese. Curiously, Van Nhon is already a year past the normal retirement age and will retain a conclave vote for only four more years. Appointed bishop in 1991 by John Paul II, he was promoted to Hanoi in 2010 by Benedict XVI. He served as president of the Vietnamese episcopal conference from 2007 to 2013.

Charles Maung Bo, 66, archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar

A former president of the Burmese national episcopal conference, the Salesian is the first cardinal in the history of this Southeast Asian nation, a former British colony marked by ethnic strife and one of the largest rich-poor income gaps in the world. John Paul II first raised the cardinal-designate to the episcopacy in 1990 and promoted him to his current position in Myanmar's largest city in 2003. Of the country's 51 million citizens, only a little more than 1 percent are Catholic, making this another of the church's least inhabited "peripheries."

Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, 65, archbishop of Bangkok

The Rome-trained former seminary rector and parish priest is only the second cardinal in the history of the tiny church in Thailand, where not even half a percent of the population of 64 million is Catholic. Benedict XVI made him a bishop in 2007 and then appointed him head of his native Bangkok archdiocese two years later. His retired predecessor, Cardinal Michael Kitbunchu, will soon be 86 years old, giving Thailand two living cardinals.

Three Latin Americans

Alberto Suàrez Inda, 75, archbishop of Morelia, Mexico

Mexico, which has the second largest Catholic population in the world, surprisingly has had only 10 cardinals dating back to 1958. This is the first time one will lead the Morelia archdiocese, which does not even rank in the top 15 among the most populous of this North American country's almost 90 dioceses. But it is located in the central state of Michoacán, where cartels, citizen militias, and Mexico's federal police and army increasingly wage drug wars. Pope Francis' choice of this Rome-trained cleric, who will already be 76 in a few weeks, is clearly meant to recognize and support church efforts at healing the conflict. Suàrez has headed the archdiocese since John Paul II appointed him there in 1995.

Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet, 55, archbishop of Montevideo, Uruguay

Until now, this South American country nestled between Argentina and Brazil has only ever had one of its own in the College of Cardinals, a Capuchin Franciscan who held the title from 1958 to 1979. Now it will have a Salesian with extensive governing experience in his own community and as president of the Conference of Religious in Uruguay. Benedict XVI appointed him auxiliary bishop of his native Montevideo archdiocese in 2011, and Pope Francis made him the archbishop in February 2014.

José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán, 70, bishop of David, Panama

Lacunza, the first cardinal in this tiny Central American country of 3.6 million, is actually from Pamplona, Spain. He came to Panama as a young priest in the 1970s to be rector of a university run by his religious community, the Order of Augustinian Recollects. John Paul II made him auxiliary bishop of the Panama City archdiocese in 1985, bishop of Chitré in 1994, then bishop of David five years later. He is one of three new cardinals who are not archbishops; his diocese is the second largest in Panama, located in the west of the country. Lacunza has served two nonconsecutive terms as president of Panama's bishops' conference.  

Two Africans

Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, 66, archbishop of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Appointed to his current post in 1999 by John Paul II, he follows his most recent predecessor as only the second bishop to be named a cardinal in Ethiopia. Catholics make up less than 1 percent of a total population where the majority are Orthodox Christian and more than 30 percent are Muslim. The cardinal-designate is a Vincentian (member of the Congregation of the Mission) and did an advanced degree in sociology at the Gregorian University in Rome. John Paul II appointed him to a number of episcopal positions beginning in 1992 before making him the ordinary of Addis Ababa seven years later. He has been president of the Episcopal Conference of Ethiopia and Eritrea since 1999 and is also head of two other regional episcopal conferences. He attended last autumn's synod on the family.

Arlindo Gomes Furtado, 65, bishop of Santiago de Cabo Verde, Cape Verde

This is the first time the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde will have a cardinal. Its recipient of the red hat is a native son who earned a licentiate in Scripture at Rome's Pontifical Biblical Institute (Biblicum). He was a professor, parish priest and diocesan vicar general until 2003, when John Paul II named him bishop of the newly established Mindelo diocese. Benedict XVI appointed him to his current post in 2009. Cape Verde has just only half a million inhabitants, but more than 90 percent of them are Catholic.

Two from Oceania

Archbishop John Atcherley Dew, 66, archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand

A series of three cardinal-archbishops headed Wellington virtually uninterrupted from 1969 to 2005. After a 10-year gap, the same number of years he's been archbishop, Dew will be the fourth. A practical, down-to-earth pastor formed in the mindset of the Second Vatican Council, he has vast parish experience and an education earned in New Zealand and England. John Paul II made him auxiliary bishop of Wellington in 1995 and then its coadjutor archbishop nine years later. He took up the reins in 2005 when Cardinal Thomas Stafford Williams, now 84, retired. He is president of his country's episcopal conference and will be seen as a moderate-to-progressive voice in the College of Cardinals. He attended the synod on the family.

Soane Patita Paini Mafi, 53, bishop of Tonga

The first cardinal ever for the tiny Kingdom of Tonga will be the youngest member of the elite, red-hat body whose main purpose is to select the next pope. That's a disproportionately huge vote for a place that numbers just a bit more than 15,000 Catholics, the size of a large parish in the United States (which did not get any new cardinals for the second consistory in a row). Tonga's Mafi actually spent two years in Baltimore when he studied psychology before returning home for parish and seminary assignments. Benedict XVI named him coadjutor bishop of the diocese in late 2007, and he became ordinary several months later.

The over-80s

Pope Francis also announced that he will give the red hat to the following five men, who are 80 years old or older:

José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez, 95, archbishop Emeritus of Manizales, Colombia

Pius XII named him to the episcopate in 1955, and he ended up attending all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. A former two-time president of the Colombian bishops' conference, in his retirement years, he became a missionary parish priest in 1996 after 21 years leading the Manizales archdiocese.

Archbishop Luigi De Magistris, 88, Major Pro-Penitentiary Emeritus

De Magistris has been a Vatican official dating back to the late 1950s, when he worked for Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani at the old Holy Office (currently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). He spent most of his life at the Apostolic Penitentiary, beginning in 1979 as regent and finally as office head from 2001 to 2003. John Paul II never gave him the red hat that usually went with that office. His successor did not, either. Evidently, it was because De Magistris opposed the canonization of Opus Dei founder Jose Maria Escriva. De Magistris is well known in Rome for supporting the Latin Mass and other traditionalist causes.

Archbishop Karl-Josef Rauber, former apostolic nuncio

Rauber is one of the so-called "Benelli widows," Vatican diplomats whose ecclesiastical careers were shaped by their allegiance to Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, the former deputy secretary of state under Pope Paul VI. Rauber was one of the few close "widows" (others being Cardinals Justin Rigali, Agostino Cacciavillan, and Giovanni Battista Re) who never got a red hat -- until now. The newly designated cardinal was a longtime papal nuncio and in a 2010 interview, after his last post in Belgium, he criticized Benedict XVI for choosing André Léonard to replace Cardinal Godfried Danneels as archbishop of Maline-Brussels. Rauber said Léonard was not on the terna (list of three candidates) he had sent to Rome. Pope Francis, who is close to the 81-year-old Danneels, has not made Léonard a cardinal, and he is expected to accept the Belgian archbishop's resignation when he turns 75 in May.

Luis Héctor Villaba, 80, archbishop emeritus of Tucumán, Argentina

The cardinal-designate served as auxiliary bishop of his native Buenos Aires immediately before Jesuit Fr. Jorge Mario Bergolio was appointed to the same position. He served as vice president of the Argentine episcopal conference when the Jesuit and future pope was conference president.

Júlio Duarte Langa, 87, bishop emeritus of Xai-Xai, Mozambique

Paul VI named the cardinal-designate head of the Xai-Xai diocese in 1976, where he remained until retirement some 28 years later. A longtime parish priest, he oversaw the translation of the Vatican II documents into the vernacular.

[Robert Mickens is editor-in-chief of Global Pulse. Since 1986, he has lived in Rome, where he studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University before working 11 years at Vatican Radio and then another decade as correspondent for The Tablet of London.]

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