ROME – Popes speak in a lot of different ways, relatively few of which actually involve the use of words. When a pope makes a personnel move, for instance, it always says a great deal about where he wants the Church to go and the kind of person he believes can get it there.
On Sunday, therefore, Pope Francis said a great deal by announcing 14 new cardinals, including 11 under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to elect his successor. Some of what the pope said through those selections is about the state of the Church, and some appeared to be at least as much about the pope himself.
The fourteen prelates named by the pope on Sunday will enter the College of Cardinals formally on June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, in a consistory ceremony held in Rome.
From shoe shiner to Prince of the Church
After he read the list of 11 new cardinals who are under the age of 80, and therefore would be able to vote for Francis’s successor, the pope named three others already over 80 who’ve nonetheless “distinguished themselves for their service to the Church.”
One is Bishop Toribio Porco Ticona from Bolivia, who went from being a shoe shiner and mine worker to becoming a “Prince of the Church.” Though a handy summary of his ecclesiastical career, the short biography provided by the Vatican of this man, the bishop emeritus of Corocoro, doesn’t do him justice.
“Before entering the seminary, he worked as a miner to help support his family,” is the first line of his biography after his birth date. From then on, it’s priestly ordination, formation, episcopal appointments.
Yet Porco Ticona has lived a life that, some could argue, deserves a movie. As per his own recollection, found in Iglesia Viva and reproduced by the website of La Paz’s archdiocese, he was a poor boy who worked selling papers and cleaning shoes.
He fails to give dates to his life’s milestones, but they are, nontheless interesting.
Once upon a time, he was the mayor of a small mining municipality, Chacarilla. He held that position for 14 years, and on Sundays, he’d say Mass for the entire community.
Porto Ticona was also jailed for “defending the cause of the poor.” By 2016, when the article first appeared, he was already “waiting for the Lord to pick me up.”
Perhaps that’s because, the last time the Bolivian bishops visited the Vatican in 2017 for their every-five-years pilgrimage to Rome, the pope joked with him and asked, “You’re still alive?”
Francis and the new cardinal have known each other for years. Speaking with local news site Infodecom on Sunday, Porto Ticona said that the two met while he was doing missionary work with the immigrant Bolivian community living in Buenos Aires slums, the pope’s former archdiocese.
Speaking about his appointment, he said: “I still can’t believe it. I did not expect this. I’m one of the humblest bishops, son of a miner, peasant, but these are God’s plans and I will have to accept it.”
The pope, he says, “likes me, and I don’t know why,” saying that too, is part of God’s plan.
Asked about what message he’d give Bolivians after his appointment, he said that, first of all, “We have to thank the God of life and history,” but he also urged “my brother peasants, miners, and the people in general, to make this a moment of reflection, to work united for Bolivia, without grudges, slander or envy.”
From Peru, a cardinal for the world’s lung
The Amazon basin that’s located in eight Latin American countries has become a priority for Francis, who called for a Synod of Bishops on the Amazonian region for 2019. He showed his concern for this region again on Sunday, when he announced the name of new cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru.
Barreto is the vice president of REPAM, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, and is in the leadership of the Peruvian bishops’ conference.
On Twitter, REPAM shared Barreto’s reaction to his red hat: “In this last period of my life, this designation is not a reward, but a call for a further service to the Church, the poor and the Amazon.”
A Jesuit, Barreto is the first Peruvian cardinal who got the red hat without being first named archbishop of Lima, an archdiocese currently headed by Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani.
On Sunday, when Francis made the announcement, Caritas Ecuador released a statement saying that the appointment is yet another sign that the Amazonian region is “a source of life in the heart of the Church” and that the pope “trusts in the universal possibility that this Amazonian Church offers.”
Mauricio Lopez, Executive Secretary of REPAM, told Crux that Barreto is a “prophet of an integral ecology, he has been since before [Francis’s encyclical on the environment] Laudato Si’ and even more so since.”
La Republica, a Peruvian newspaper, reported that Barreto and Francis have known each other for decades. When the pope was still the head of the local Jesuit province, the Peruvian travelled to Argentina for a spiritual retreat.
After telling the then-Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio that his mother was Argentinian, the future pope reportedly spent a morning showing Barreto the places where his mother, Elvira, had lived.
From Iraq and Pakistan, two red hats applauded by Christians and Muslims
Both Iraq and Pakistan are countries where, according to papal agency Aid to the Church in Need, Christians face “extreme” persecution, and the situation worsens from one year to the other. Both are Muslim-majority countries where Christians face daily challenges ranging from survival to the right of being considered full citizens.
Hence it’s of particular importance that, according to various reports, the choice of Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, and Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi in Pakistan, has been welcomed not only by Catholics, but by Muslims.
Speaking with Vatican News, Sako said that his appointment came as a surprise, but that it wasn’t “for my person, but for the Church that has suffered so much and for Iraq.”
“In my opinion, it’s for the whole country, both Christians and Muslims,” he said, adding that it shows the support of the universal Church and the Holy See to the local Christian community. “It’s an impulse of hope, of encouragement, to go on towards the reconciliation of the country.”
He gave even more details to Asia News, where he said that, “Many Muslim religious, Sunni and Shiite, have called me, and they too describe it as an honor for them, for all Iraqis, they say, even for us Muslims.”
Among the calls he received, he was “struck” by that of a Shiite cleric who said that “this appointment is a gift for all the faithful, it is a gift of mercy for Iraq.”
Coutts, the second-ever Pakistani cardinal, told Crux’s India correspondent Nirmala Carvalho that his appointment was both a “surprise” and an “honor,” received with great joy even by “non-Christians, who know what a cardinal is.”
“Today is the Feast of Pentecost, and Pentecost is the birthday of Church,” he said. “Pope Francis is trying to make the Church more universal with the appointment of all 14 of us from peripheries as cardinals.”
Muslim politician Khawaja Saad Rafique, minister of Pakistan’s railway system, celebrated Coutts’s appointment on Twitter, saying that it was a reason of pride not only for Christians but “for our beloved Pakistan.”