MUMBAI — Caritas Internationalis has elected a new president. At a highly anticipated and closely observed gathering that opened in Rome late last week, participant delegates chose Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi SVD – Archbishop of Tokyo and a religious priest with the Divine Word Missionaries who served several years in Ghana – to lead the organization that is the global umbrella of the Church’s institutional charity initiatives.

Kikuchi has both missionary and serious pastoral leadership experience and inside knowledge of Caritas, having served as president of Caritas Japan and Caritas Asia, as well as on the leadership council of Caritas Internationalis. Heading into the meeting, however, there was little of institutional politics-as-usual, and no real handicapping of candidates.

“I was surprised to be elected,” Kikuchi told Crux. “I was planning to leave this morning, Sunday, after someone became the president.”

“I have to try my best to create unity among members of the confederation,” Kikuchi said. “I need everyone to walk and work together.”

One major reason for the interest in the May 11-16 meeting of senior delegates from Caritas outfits around the world is the turmoil the organization has been experiencing for nearly a year, after Pope Francis ousted the cardinal president, Luis Antonio Tagle, and secretary general Aloysius John – a Frenchman of Indian descent – along with the organization’s vice presidents, its treasurer and its ecclesiastic assistant.

All that happened in a single fell swoop, in November of 2022, when the Vatican announced that an external investigation had uncovered “real deficiencies” in management. The Nov. 22 statement explicitly stated that investigators had not found evidence of sexual or financial impropriety, which  seriously affected “team spirit and staff morale.”

Pope Francis installed a caretaker – 59-year-old Italian layman Pier Francesco Pinelli, who’s been involved in efforts at organizational change in sectors ranging from oil and gas to the theatre – and ordered the drafting of new governing statutes, which are being presented to delegates during the meeting that is underway.

The choice of Kikuchi therefore comes as the organization seeks to recover both a sense of internal order and missionary identity.

“[Caritas Internationalis] should be a professional international humanitarian aid agency but, at the same time, it should proclaim the good news of Jesus through its actions,” Kikuchi said.

“It should create hope and not disappointment. It should be means of unity but not of disparity. It should promote a synodal Church involving everyone. No one should be excluded and no one should be forgotten.”

Crux staff contributed to this report