Pope Francis, the head of the largest Christian church in the world with 1.2 billion members, recently created 19 new cardinals who mostly came from poor and developing countries. In a ceremony Saturday held at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica, this event is the first of such an appointment since Pope Francis became the elected pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church about a year ago.
Ten of the new cardinals came from poor and developing countries like Haiti, Nicaragua, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Chile, Brazil and the Philippines. According to Vatican analyst for the Boston Globe John Allen, this appointment of new cardinals is an indication that Pope Francis wanted to reduce the number of European cardinals. And at the same time, create more cardinals coming from the global south where two-thirds of the total Catholic population lives.
These additions in the College of Cardinals transfer the action in the church from the usual centers of power to places where Pope Francis thinks have long been neglected and ignored, Allen said. These observations on the geographical basis of the choices are also echoed by Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman who said that the new cardinals from Haiti and Burkina Faso indicate the concern of the church for the people in these countries and for other people mired in poverty.
Sixteen out of the 19 new cardinals are 80 years old and below allowing them to join the ranks of existing cardinal electors eligible to elect a new pope in the future. While those over the age of 80 were chosen because of their distinguished service to the Roman Catholic Church.
Notable among the new cardinals are: Archbishop Aurelio Poli, 66, who is Pope Francis’ successor at Buenos Aires, Argentina and Archbishop Chibly Langlois, 55, who is the first cardinal to come from Haiti considered as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
The other new cardinals are the Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin, 59, who is Pope Francis’ new secretary of state; Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, 66, a known conservative and head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office; and Archbishop Loris Capovilla, 98, who was the former secretary of Pope John XXIII. According to Vatican correspondent for Il Fatto, the Italian daily, Marco Politi the appointment of conservative Archbishop Mueller is an indication that Pope Francis wanted other views and opinions “…to represent the different trends within church as they are.”
The pope during the formal ceremony, called the public consistory, each presented the new cardinals with the traditional red caps or birettas as well as rings. The red color of the cap is a symbol that the new cardinals are willing to die for their faith.
Pope Francis in a letter sent to the new cardinals about a month ago, explained that becoming a cardinal “does not signify a promotion, an honor nor a decoration: it is simply a service that demands a broader vision and a bigger heart.”
The Pope Emeritus Benedict, 86, looking frail also sat with the cardinals and watched the ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica. Benedict became the first pope in almost 600 years to resign when he announced his resignation from the position a year ago. The crowd watching the proceedings showed their appreciation to Benedict by giving him applause when he walked in the church and again applauded him when one of the cardinals mentioned Benedict in his address. This happened even though the people were asked to refrain from clapping or making any noise during the ceremony.
The cardinals are considered as the pope’s closest advisers and most of them become members of important committees in the Vatican that decide policy directions that can affect the lives of many Roman Catholics.
As the head of the largest Christian church in the world with 1.2 billion members, Pope Francis’ choice of new cardinals who mostly came from poor and developing countries is in consonance with the new pope’s promise of change within the church.
By Roberto I. Belda