VATICAN CITY — From Pope Francis’ choice of 16 cardinal-electors, it looks as though the Holy Father’s first cardinal-making consistory will steer the Church away from its perception as a predominantly Eurocentric and Western institution  and towards an international one, more representative of today’s Church.

The names of the 16, announced after the Angelus Jan. 12, mostly come from the Southern Hemisphere; only six are from Europe. None are from the United States, and there are just four from Italy. Many Vatican observers see this as a logical progression, given that Catholics are most populous in Latin America, and the Church is growing fastest in Asia and Africa. 

“It’s certainly a good thing that there’s more of an international emphasis,” Cardinal Renato Martino, the Holy See’s former permanent observer to the United Nations, told the Register Jan. 13. “These new cardinals preside over many parts of the world, and it’s of great concern to the Pope that all the Church be represented.”

Significantly, the majority — 12 out of the 16 new cardinal-electors — are residential archbishops, indicating that the Pope has chosen prelates with more pastoral experience than those in administration. Only four are Curial officials, and the Holy Father has conspicuously omitted to elevate heads of pontifical councils to the College of Cardinals, possibly signifying an end to that tradition and giving him a freer rein to choose from a wider pool of archbishops around the world.

Furthermore, many of the appointees come from poor or particularly difficult areas. These include Mindanao in the Philippines, which has suffered a lengthy conflict and interreligious tensions. Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, its popular archbishop, has done much to try and promote peace in a region stricken by civil war.

Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes in Haiti is shepherd of a diocese on arguably the poorest island in Latin America, while Archbishop Orani Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro leads a flock where many inhabitants reside in slums, one of which the Pope visited on his World Youth Day trip last year. The appointment took the archbishop by surprise: “I didn’t know anything,” he told reporters Jan. 12. “The Pope didn’t warn me in advance — no one warned me.”

The Pope also chose new cardinals from Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast, places that show the Pope’s concern “for people struck by poverty,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.

 

Latin America and Quebec

As expected, many of the new cardinals — five in total — come from the Pope’s native Latin America, including his successor in Buenos Aires, Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli. From North America, he chose Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec, Canada, who succeeded Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

The United States is thought to already have its quota of cardinals, although Archbishops Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, William Lori of Baltimore and Charles Chaput of Philadelphia — traditionally cardinalatial sees — were passed over this time.

The Pope also passed over the traditional cardinalatial sees of Venice and Turin in Italy. Venice was the stepping-stone to the papacy of three popes in the 20th century (St. Pius X, Blessed John XXIII and Pope John Paul I).

But three of the four new Curial cardinals are Italian, and Francis chose Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia to be honored with a red biretta (the archdiocese was once led by Vincenzo Giaocchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, who went on to become Pope Leo XIII). Italian media said Archbishop Bassetti appeared “dazed” by the appointment. As the vice president of the Italian bishops’ conference, he is believed to have been chosen by the Pope for his pastoral abilities and in order to push forward radical reform of the conference. “I would love to be of help in the enormous work of pastoral renewal that is taking place,” he told Italian media Jan. 12.

After the Feb. 22 consistory, 122 cardinal electors under the age of 80 will be present in the college out of a total of 218. And for the first time, the representation is evenly balanced between 61 from Europe and 61 from the rest of the world (34 Americans, 13 Africans, 13 Asians and one from Oceania).

At the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis noted the new cardinals come from 12 nations “from every corner of the world” and “represent the profound ecclesial relationship between the Church of Rome and the other Churches dispersed throughout the world.”

The 218 include three new archbishop emeritii, all over the age of 80 and chosen by the Pope for their distinguished service to the Church. Archbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla, 98, was John XXIII’s private secretary and could possibly be the oldest Churchman ever to have been made a cardinal.

“I am very grateful. I am grateful to Pope John because he has led me also to this — and to Pope Francis,” he told SIR, the Italian bishops’ news agency. He said he received the news with “much serenity” and “in communion” with all the Church’s “humble priests.”

 

‘Servants of the Church’

In addition to bringing greater representation of the faithful in the College of Cardinals, Francis also wants to underline the true nature of what it means to be a “prince of the Church.” In a letter to the cardinals on their appointment, released by the Vatican Jan. 13, the Holy Father stressed that the position “is not a promotion or an honor or a decoration,” but, rather, “simply a service that demands a wider view and a bigger heart.”

Cardinal Martino, who is now honorary president of the Rome-based Dignitatis Humanae Institute, especially welcomed the Pope’s words.

“Cardinals are servants of the Church,” he stressed. “It’s not just an honor; they do something more profound for the Church.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.