Francis diversifies cardinals, choosing prelates from Asia, island nations

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Continuing to diversify global representation in the most select body of Catholic prelates, Pope Francis announced Sunday that he will be creating 20 new cardinals from 18 different countries -- with several from places never before included in the elite group.

Among those Francis has chosen for the role: Bishops from the island nations of Cabo Verde and Tonga; archbishops from the Asian cities of Bangkok, Yangon, and Hà Nôi; and the leader of an Italian community dealing heavily with refugees and migrants from Africa.

Francis made the announcement of the new cardinals, long expected in recent weeks, during his weekly Sunday address following the noon-time Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square.

Cardinals, sometimes known as the "princes of the church" and for their red vestments, are usually senior Catholic prelates who serve either as archbishops in the world's largest dioceses or in the Vatican's central bureaucracy. Their principal role is to gather in secret conclave after the death or resignation of a pope to elect his successor.

While historically cardinals have come from certain larger cities known for their Catholic populations or global importance, Francis has sought to diversify representation in the group -- choosing men from places long underrepresented or even not represented in the College of Cardinals.

Of Francis' 20 choices Sunday, seven come from Europe, five from Latin America, three from Asia, three from Africa, and two from Oceania. There are none from the United States or Canada.

Three come from countries that have never had a cardinal: Bishop Arlindo Gomes Furtado, of the Atlantic Ocean archipelago of Cabo Verde; Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi, of the Pacific Ocean archipelago of Tonga; and Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, of Myanmar.

The other two Asians Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok, Thailand, and Archbishop Pierre Nguyên Van Nhon, of Hà Nôi, Vietnam.

Only one of the new cardinals currently holds a Vatican post: Moroccan native Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, who recently replaced U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke as the head of the Vatican's supreme court.

The pope will elevate the new cardinals at a formal ceremony at the Vatican, known as a consistory, Feb. 14.

Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said in a statement Sunday that Francis' choices for cardinals indicate the pontiff does not feel bound to past traditions that indicated that only certain dioceses in the world would have cardinals.

"The new nominations confirm that the pope is not bound to the traditions of the Cardinalatial Sees which were motivated by historical reasons in different countries in which the Cardinalate was considered almost automatically connected to such sees," Lombardi said. "Instead, we have several nominations of Archbishops and Bishops of sees that in the past have not had a Cardinal."

Five of the cardinals named by Francis on Sunday are over 80, the age at which cardinals can no longer vote in conclaves to elect a pontiff. Announcing the names, Francis said he had chosen those five to "represent many bishops that ... have given testimony of love to Christ and the People of God."

Among the Europeans announced as cardinals is Italian Archbishop Francesco Montenegro, who heads the Sicilian archdiocese of Agrigento. Located on Sicily's west coast, directly across the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia, Agrigento has been a landing point for tens of thousands of refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

The remaining new cardinals announced who are under the age of 80 are:

  • Patriarch of Lisbon, Portugal, Archbishop Manuel José Macario do Nascimento Clemente;
  • Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel;
  • Wellington, New Zealand, Archbishop John Atcherley Dew;
  • Ancona-Osimo, Italy, Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli;
  • Morelia, Mexico, Archbishop Alberto Suàrez Inda;
  • Montevideo, Uruguay, Archbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet;
  • Vallodolid, Spain, Archbishop Ricardo Blázquez Pérez;
  • San José de David, Panamá, Bishop José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán.

Souraphiel, who is also head of the Ethiopian bishops' conference, said in an NCR interview last year that Catholics across Africa are seeking a revitalized church under Francis that is "true to its call to the Gospel and not a power structure."

"We don't need a power structure," Souraphiel said, speaking in November 2013.

"That's why the Papal States were given away," Souraphiel said, referring to the vast Italian landholdings controlled by the papacy until the 19th century. The Vatican, he said, should be a "moral voice in the world [that is] credible."

February’s consistory will be Francis' second, following his creation of 19 cardinals in February 2014. After the upcoming consistory Francis will have named 31 of 125 cardinals able to vote in a papal conclave. Of those, 58 will come from Europe, 20 from Latin America, 15 from Africa, 15 from North America, 14 from Asia, and three from Oceania.

The five prelates over the age of 80 announced as new cardinals include Italian Archbishop Luigi de Magistris, a former head of the Vatican's Apostolic Penitentiary, and former Xai-Xai, Mozambique, Bishop Júlio Duarte Langa, who served for 28 years as head of his diocese. The other three over 80 named by Francis are:

  • Manizales, Colombia, Emeritus Archbishop José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez, a leader in the Latin American Episcopal Conference who took part in its conferences in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968; Puebla, Mexico, in 1979; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1992;
  • Archbishop Karl-Joseph Rauber, a German native who served in the Vatican diplomatic service in Uganda, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Hungary, Moldova, Belgium and Luxembourg;
  • Tucumán, Argentina, Emeritus Archbishop Luis Héctor Villaba, who served as vice president of the Argentine bishops' conference under the leadership of then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

The ceremony creating new cardinals will be one of several meetings that will make for an unusually busy February at the Vatican. 

The first event will be a Feb. 6-8 plenary session of the new papal commission on sexual abuse of minors; then a Feb. 9-11 meeting of the Council of Cardinals, the group advising the pope on reforming the Vatican bureaucracy. All of the cardinals will then meet Feb. 12-13 before the Feb. 14 formal naming of the new cardinals.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

A version of this story appeared in the Jan 16-29, 2015 print issue under the headline: Francis continues to diversify cardinals.

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