Pope Francis announced Sunday that he would create 21 new cardinals in September, choosing clerics from across the world to reinforce the church’s global reach, as he has done with past choices.
“Where they come from expresses the universality of the church, which continues to proclaim the merciful love of God to all people of the earth,” Francis said Sunday at the end of his weekly prayer and blessing in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. The addition of the new cardinals shows “the inseparable bond” between the pope and “local churches spread throughout the world,” he said.
The list of new “princes of the church,” as cardinals are called, includes prelates from the United States, Hong Kong, Argentina, Colombia, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania and Malaysia, reflecting Francis’ deliberate shift away from Europe in molding the college that will elect his successor. Of the 131 cardinals Francis has created during his 10-year papacy, including this latest batch, about half are from Africa, Asia and South America.
The only North American is Msgr. Robert Francis Prevost, who previously served as head of the global Augustinian order and was a bishop between 2014 and last year in Peru. As the recently appointed prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, which recommends priests whom the pope will make bishops, he holds one of the most influential positions at the Vatican.
Two other recently appointed prefects were also named as cardinals on Sunday. Msgr. Claudio Gugerotti, a former papal nunzio in half a dozen countries, including Ukraine and Britain, was named prefect of the Dicastery for Oriental Churches in January. And just over a week ago, Francis appointed Msgr. Víctor Manuel Fernandez, an archbishop from La Plata, Argentina, as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, making him the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog and also responsible for overseeing the office that reviews and sets discipline for proven allegations of clerical sexual abuse.
A longtime Vatican diplomat who is the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, originally from France, was also named cardinal.
Francis also chose Stephen Chow Sau-yan, bishop of Hong Kong, who earlier this year visited mainland China in an attempt to build bridges and promote exchanges on the bumpy path of rapprochement between China and the Vatican, and Msgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, who is the Vatican’s top official in the Middle East.
Speaking to the 15,000 people who had gathered under a blistering sun in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, the pope expressed “sorrow” over renewed bloodshed in the Holy Land, referring to the Israeli military incursion in the West Bank city of Jenin last week that left 12 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier dead.
“I hope that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders can resume direct dialogue to bring an end to the spiral of violence and open paths of reconciliation and peace,” he said.
The College of Cardinals is responsible for the election of a pope, and its composition naturally affects the selection of future pontiffs. Of the 21 newly selected men, 18 are under 80, the cutoff age for voting on a new pope once Francis dies or retires.
In the 1970s, Pope Paul VI limited the number of cardinals under 80, and thus eligible for a papal vote, to 120. Pope John Paul II exceeded that limit in 2001, though the number was back down to 115 by the time he died in 2005. With the addition of the newest cardinals, Francis has bumped the number of vote-eligible cardinals to 137.
Francis has promoted a pastoral vision of the Roman Catholic Church, one that reaches out to marginalized people like migrants, the poor and those who are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, another of the pope’s main concerns.
After the consistory — as the ceremony to install the new cardinals is known — on Sept. 30, Francis will have appointed the overwhelming majority of the future cardinal electors, increasing the possibility that his successor will reflect at least parts of that vision.
The consistory falls a few days before a major Vatican gathering of bishops and laypeople where various issues will be discussed, like the role of women in the church and the steps the church can take to better welcome gay men, lesbians and people in the transgender community.