Pope Francis promoted 21 clergymen from various parts of the world to the rank of cardinal on Saturday, saying diversity was critical to the Catholic Church’s survival.
The 86-year-old pope welcomed the new “Princes of the Church” — one of whom could one day succeed the present pontiff — under beautiful skies and with a crowd that filled half of Vatican City’s majestic, colonnaded St Peter’s Square.
“The College of Cardinals is called to resemble a symphony orchestra, representing the harmony and synodality of the Church,” said Francis, seated under a canopy before the gathered cardinals on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica.
“Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design,” said the Argentine Jesuit.
The choice of the new cardinals, who include diplomats, close advisers and administrators, is closely watched as an indication of the priorities and position of the Church.
One of them may also be picked by his peers to follow Francis, who has indicated that he may stand down in the future if his health warrants it.
The ceremony on Saturday, known as a consistory, is the eighth since Francis was appointed head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics in 2013.
The scarlet-clad cardinals bowed before the pope, who conferred upon them the two insignia of their high office: a biretta, a scarlet four-cornered cap, and a cardinal’s ring.
To some, a grinning Francis uttered an encouraging “Bravo!” or “Courage!” as he shook their hand.
During his pontificate, Francis has worked to build a more inclusive, international Church, reaching beyond Europe to fill the Church’s top ranks with clerics from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Eighteen of the 21 newly appointed cardinals are under the age of 80, making them eligible to vote as “cardinal electors” in the next conclave, which will determine Francis’ successor.
They are among the 99 cardinal-electors appointed by Francis, accounting for almost three-quarters of the total.
This has fueled conjecture that the Church’s next spiritual leader will be modeled after Francis, preaching a more tolerant Church with a greater emphasis on the poor and marginalized.
Bishops taking action
With his latest roster of cardinals, Francis has again looked to the world’s “peripheries” — where Catholicism is growing — while breaking with the practice of promoting archbishops of large, powerful dioceses.
“He is looking for cardinals who correspond to the times. These are people who have all taken a step away from the Church of the past, who positively ensure a break,” an informed observer of the Holy See who asked to remain nameless told AFP ahead of the ceremony.
The array of cardinals represent “a richness and a variety of experience, and that’s what the Church is all about,” the Archbishop of Cape Town, Stephen Brislin, told AFP Thursday.
“The Church encompasses all people, not just a certain group of people,” he said.
With the promotion of the archbishops of Juba in South Sudan, Tabora in Tanzania, and Brislin in Cape Town, there are three new cardinals from South America, including two Argentinians, and three from Africa.
Asia is represented by the Bishop of Penang in Malaysia and Stephen Chow, Bishop of Hong Kong, who is considered as playing a crucial role in efforts to repair hostile relations between the Vatican and Beijing.
Diplomats and managers
Some of the new cardinals, such as Chow, have worked in difficult areas of the world where the Holy See aspires to play a significant diplomatic role.
The Holy Land’s top Catholic authority, Italian Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the first seated Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem to be named a cardinal, is on the list.
“Jerusalem is a small laboratory, interreligious and intercultural, and that’s a challenge that the whole world is facing at this point,” Pizzaballa told AFP.
The apostolic nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States, France’s Christophe Pierre, will also be promoted. Pierre’s decades-long diplomatic career includes appointments in Haiti, Uganda, and Mexico.
Top administrators in the Holy See’s government, the Curia, are also being honored.
Claudio Gugerotti of Italy heads the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches; Victor Manuel Fernandez of Argentina heads the powerful Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Chicago-born Robert Prevost, a former missionary in Peru, heads the Dicastery for Bishops.