VATICAN CITY — For many people in Rome, Pope Francis’ decision to schedule a consistory to create new cardinals in August was more surprising than the men he chose to receive the red hat.
Traditionally, Rome empties of everyone but tourists in sweltering August.
And Pope Francis’ choices for inclusion in the College of Cardinals are, by now, predictably unpredictable except that they will represent a broader geographical range, and, with few exceptions, they will skip over archdioceses once guaranteed to have a cardinal.
In fact, in a brief article in Vatican News, the editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication explained the pope’s unusual decision to hold the consistory Aug. 27 was made to coincide with a previously announced gathering of the world’s cardinals Aug. 29-30 to discuss the new structure of the Roman Curia.
Pope Francis announced May 29 that he would create 21 new cardinals — 16 of whom are under the age of 80 and so will be eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope. The 21 churchmen come from 16 countries.
The cardinals-designate include three senior members of the Roman Curia, who generally were presumed to be named cardinals eventually: British Cardinal-designate Arthur Roche, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments; South Korean Cardinal-designate Lazarus You Heung-sik, head of the Congregation for Clergy; and Spanish Cardinal-designate Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, head of the office in charge of Vatican City State operations.
Vérgez is the first member of the Legionaries of Christ to become a cardinal. U.S. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, was a member of the order, but left to become a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Six other members of religious orders are on the list for the August ceremony, including two Salesians — Archbishop Virgílio do Carmo da Silva of Dili, Timor-Leste, and retired Archbishop Lucas Van Looy of Ghent, Belgium. The lone Jesuit on the list is Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, professor of canon law, who turns 80 July 5. Archbishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner of Manaus, Brazil, is a Franciscan, and Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr of Wa, Ghana, is a member of the Missionaries of Africa.
Pope Francis is a Jesuit as are six current members of the College of Cardinals. The Friars Minor, the Franciscan branch to which Bishop Ulrich Steiner belongs, already has two cardinals, and the Missionaries of Africa have one. But the Salesians, who will gain two cardinals, lead the pack with nine cardinals already.
The only Consolata Missionary that will be part of the college is Cardinal-designate Giorgio Marengo, apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, who also will be the youngest cleric with a red hat. He will celebrate his 48th birthday June 7.
Although born in Italy, he is one of six cardinals-designate under 80 who minister in or are from Asia. Four others are Europe-based; three are Latin Americans; two are Africans. Cardinal-designate Robert W. McElroy of San Diego is the only North American in the new crop of cardinals.
After the consistory in late August, the College of Cardinals will have 132 members under the age of 80 and eligible to enter a conclave; 83 of them — almost 63% — will have been created cardinals by Pope Francis; 11 of the remaining voters were made cardinals by St. John Paul II and 38 by retired Pope Benedict XVI.
While some pundits spoke about Pope Francis “packing” the College of Cardinals, it must be remembered that of the 115 cardinals who entered the conclave in March 2013 and elected him, 67 were named to the college by Pope Benedict XVI and 48 were created cardinals by St. John Paul II.
Counting Marengo as an Asian, not European cardinal, after the consistory 53 of the electors — just over 40% — will be European; 18% will be Latin American; almost 16% Asian; almost 13% African; 10% North American; and just over 2% from Oceania.
Mongolia, which has a Catholic population of 1,359, according to the latest Vatican figures, will have its first cardinal, as will Singapore with Cardinal-designate William Goh Seng Chye, and Paraguay with Cardinal-designate Adalberto Martínez Flores of Asunción.
Much was made in the Italian press of Pope Francis’ choice of Bishop Oscar Cantoni of Como, Italy, to receive the red hat, especially when the archdioceses of Milan and Venice are not led by cardinals. But Como does have a cardinalatial past; granted, the last was Blessed Andrea Ferrari, who was made a cardinal May 18, 1894, and named archbishop of Milan three days later. The last cardinal to minister in the Diocese of Como for an extended period was Bishop Carlo Ciceri, who was appointed to the see in 1680 and made a cardinal in 1686. He died in Como in 1694 at the age of 77.
India and Brazil both will have two new cardinals in August, and Cardinal-designate Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, India, made headlines in his home country for being the first cardinal of the Telugu people from the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and, especially, for being the first Dalit cardinal. “Dalit,” which means “trampled upon” in Sanskrit, refers to people treated as untouchables under India’s former caste system and often still treated with disrespect today, including in the church at times.
An editorial May 31 on the website Matters India said, “That caste is a grave concern and that it needs to be addressed is undeniable and Archbishop Poola would have to play a significant role in bringing this into the church’s conversations and discussions and help find ways to resolve it.”
“Analogously,” the editorial continued, “the struggles of the Adivasis — also called tribals or the Indigenous people — are different, but in the appointment of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo in 2003, the community found a representative to be celebrated.”
Pope Francis’ choice of 59-year-old Cardinal-designate Peter Ebere Okpaleke of Ekwulobia, Nigeria, also brought interest. In December 2012, Pope Benedict had named him bishop of Ahiara and he was ordained the following May. But his appointment and ordination were met by protests and petitions calling for the appointment of a bishop from among the local clergy.
Even after Pope Francis in 2017 ordered local priests to pledge their obedience to the pope and accept the bishop, the situation remained tense. In early 2018, Bishop Okpaleke resigned saying, “I am convinced in conscience that my remaining the bishop of Ahiara Diocese is no longer beneficial to the church.”
Pope Francis named him bishop of the newly created Diocese of Ekwulobia in March 2020.