VATICAN CITY — On the first weekend of a year that will be marked by key personnel decisions, Pope John Paul II made a significant episcopal appointment in Venice and ordained 10 new bishops on the Feast of the Epiphany in St. Peter's Basilica.

It was announced Jan. 5 that Bishop Angelo Scola, current Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, and President of the associated John Paul II Institute for the Study of Marriage and the Family, would be the new Patriarch of Venice, succeeding Cardinal Marco Cè, who retired at age 76 after 23 years of leading the historic diocese.

The archbishop of Venice is given the title “patriarch” and is almost always considered a possible pope. In the 20th century, three Venetian patriarchs were elected pope: St. Pius X, Blessed John XXIII and John Paul I. Now that Bishop Scola is in Venice, that talk will no doubt resume, given his polyglot capabilities and his scholarly background as one of the principal interpreters of the thought of John Paul himself.

Bishop Scola, 60, has been a rising star in the Italian episcopate and his promotion had long been expected, though it was uncertain where he might be assigned.

Several senior curial officials will turn 75 this year, meaning that they must submit their resignation, though it does not necessarily have to be accepted. They include Cardinals Angelo Sodano (Secretariat of State), Joseph Ratzinger (Doctrine of the Faith), Eduardo Martínez Somalo (Institutes of Consecrated Life), Jorge Medina Estévez (Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments) and Edmund Szoka, the American-born governor of the Vatican City State. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, archbishop of Milan, will also turn 75 in February.

In addition, 10 cardinals will turn 80 in 2002, including such senior figures of the current pontificate as Cardinals Benardin Gantin, Roger Etchegaray and Pio Laghi, rendering them unable to participate in any future conclave.

“One year ago, on this feast of the Epiphany, at the conclusion of the Holy Year, I delivered to the family of believers and to the whole of humanity the apostolic letter Novo millennio ineunte, which opens with the invitation of Christ to Peter and the others: Duc in altum! Put out into the deep!” said the Holy Father in his homily during the ordination of bishops Jan. 6.

“Again I give this programmatic text of the new evangelization to each of you. I repeat to you the words of the Redeemer: Duc in altum! Be not afraid of the darkness of the world, because he who sends you is the ‘light of the world.’”

John Paul customarily ordains new bishops at Epiphany, including two years ago Bishop David Ricken of Cheyenne, Wyo. This year, the ordinations included five diocesan bishops — three from central Africa two Europeans — four apostolic nuncios and one curial official.

Given the length of the ordination rite, the Epiphany Mass is one of the longest ceremonies the Holy Father presides over each year — almost three hours in length. His stamina was evident as he rushed back to his apartment immediately following the Mass to deliver the Angelus address, but he was also unsteady on his feet, and almost fell ascending the step to the altar for the offertory. He was steadied by attentive ceremonial officials, whose efficiency and professionalism have become increasingly more important in minimizing the demands that ceremonies make on the Pope.

“I ask God for the strength to continue as long as he wishes in the service of the Church and the world,” prayed John Paul Dec. 31. The 81-year-old Pope will have to select in the next year or so a new team of senior officials to accompany him in that service. Along with the recent appointments of Cardinals Giovanni Battista Re (Bishops), Walter Kasper (Christian Unity) and Crescenzio Sepe (Evangelization of Peoples), Scola represents the next generation of senior prelates entering leadership positions.

“Bishop Scola is a great theologian, a man of great administrative skills, a man of dialogue between cultures and a deep sense of the Church,” said Bishop Marc Ouellet, Secretary for the Council for Christian Unity, a former professor under the bishop at the John Paul II Institute.

“I am very happy about his appointment because Venice has a long tradition of openness to the East, and as a meeting place between West and East. As Patriarch, he will be mindful of this vocation of Venice for the unity of the Church. He will also bring to a wider audience those issues we worked on together at the John Paul II Institute regarding marriage and the family — already as rector he has established Institutes on all five continents.”

Bishop Scola is one of the leading Italian theologians, having written several books on Christian anthropology, marriage and family, and ecclesiology. One of the leading proponents of John Paul's “theology of the body,” he has proposed a rethinking of all the principal themes of theology in the light of John Paul's vision of the nuptial meaning of the body.

His innovative theology is matched, according to many of his collaborators, by a keen administrative ability to get things done. Before his appointment in 1995 to the Lateran University, he was diocesan bishop of Grosseto for four years, where he put great priority on Catholic education, vocations (he reopened the diocesan seminary), formation of priests after ordination, the family and missions — opening a diocesan mission in Brazil.

While at the Lateran, he rein-vigorated the journal Nuntium and opened a pastoral institute with particular focus on the social doctrine of the Church, leading Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome, to speak of him as giving “great impulse” to the “deepening of the cultural dimension of university life and of the dialogue with society.”

“The decision of the Holy Father to nominate me patriarch of Venice fills me with trepidation,” wrote Bishop Scola to Cardinal Cè on the occasion of the announcement. “However, to this understandable fear of such a great duty is united the serenity which is born from obedience to the will of the Successor of Peter. ... Please tell those who live in our diocese that my desire is to give witness — together with the priests, religious and all the laity, in particular Christian families — that faith in Christ truly makes us free.”