Pope names new cardinals from Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain and El Salvador

Pope names new cardinals from Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain and El Salvador

Pope names new cardinals from Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain and El Salvador

Cardinals listen to Pope Francis delivering his speech during a consistory in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (Credit: Stefano Rellandini/pool photo via AP.)

In what has become a trademark of this pontificate, Francis blindsided long-time Vatican watchers and even most of his closest collaborators when he announced the names of five new cardinals today. He did so at the end of his Sunday Regina Coeli prayer, which during the Easter season replaces the traditional Angelus.

ROME—Never one to shun surprises, Pope Francis today announced the creation of five new cardinals. The ceremony to induct the new Princes of the Church will take place on June 28, and the new cardinals will say Mass with him on the following day, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

The fact that the five cardinals come from “diverse parts from the world,” expresses the “Catholicity of the church, diffused throughout the earth,” Pope Francis said.

The five new cardinals are:

  • Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in El Salvador;
  • Archbishop Jean Zerbo, of Bamako, Mali;
  • Bishop Anders Arborelius, of Stockholm, Sweden;
  • Archbishop Juan José Omella of Barcelona, Spain;
  • Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun Apostolic Administrator of Vientiane, Laos.

In keeping with his passion for the peripheries, four of the five men Francis named on Sunday represent countries that have never before had a cardinal: Mali, Sweden, El Salvador and Laos.

In what has become a trademark of this pontificate, Francis blindsided long-time Vatican watchers and even most of his closest collaborators alike when he announced the names of his new cardinals today. He did so at the end of his Sunday Regina Coeli prayer, which during the Easter season replaces the traditional Angelus.

“We entrust the new cardinals to the protection of St. Peter and Paul,” Francis said, “so that with the intercession of the prince of the apostles they are authentic servers of the ecclesial communion, and so that with that of the apostle of the peoples they are joyful announcers of the Gospel, and that with their witness and council they sustain me more intensely in my service as bishops of Rome, shepherd of the Universal Church.”

All of the new cardinals are under 80 and therefore eligible to vote for the next pope.

Of the five cardinal-elects, two were appointed to their dioceses by Francis: Omella, who has been in Barcelona since 2015, and Mangkhanekhoun, who took over in Vientiane in Feb. 2017. The rest were appointed by John Paul II.

On choosing Rosa Chávez from El Salvador, the pope bypassed the titular archbishop of the diocese, José Luis Escobar y Alas, once again making the point that when he gives red hats, he’s more than willing to go beyond the traditional “cardinal sees,” something he’s done in the previous three consistories he’s celebrated.

This pick in particular says a lot about Francis, because Rosa Chávez was a close collaborator of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered in 1980 while he was saying Mass.

Talking to Vatican Radio in the days previous to the beatification of Romero, the archbishop said that the murdered archbishop is “the icon of [the kind of] pastor Francis wants, the icon of the Church Francis wants … a poor Church for the poor.”

When a pope creates new cardinals, he’s not only choosing the person who might be his eventual successor. By matter of hierarchy, the “red hats,” as they’re often called because of the color of their zucchetto, or skullcap, also serve as papal advisers.

Though it hardly means a move to Rome, those under 80 are quickly appointed to Vatican offices and councils, which often lead to at least annual pilgrimages to the eternal city.

The selection also says a lot about the path a pontiff wants the church to take.

In the “Francis era,” many of the new red hats hail from far-flung, often overlooked dioceses where Catholics are a distinct minority. This is a reflection of the pope’s insistence that the church needs to look to the peripheries and bring them to the center.

In 2014, Francis created 19 new cardinals, 16 of them under the age of 80.

The list included Chibly Langlois, from Haiti’s Les Cayes, meaning he overlooked Port au Prince, the capital and major diocese. Francis also overlooked more traditional Caribbean power-houses, such as Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

That same year, the pontiff also appointed Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo, of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and Jean-Pierre Kutwa, of Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

The first pope from the global south is also known for overlooking what are known as historic red hat sees, meaning dioceses that have had a cardinal for quite some time. In the United States, for instance, these would be cities such as Los Angeles or Philadelphia. In Italy, this means Turin and Venice.

Of the new batch of red hats, three of them come from the peripheries.

Mangkhanekhoun, of Laos, hails from a country under communist rule, and where Catholics represent a minority: The 46,000 faithful amount to less than one percent of the total population. There are no dioceses in the country, only apostolic vicariates, and around the country there are 67 Catholic parishes, tended by 17 priests. According to the Catholic Almanac, there are 20 seminarians in the country and 93 religious sisters.

With Buddhism as the state religion, the bishops of two of the four apostolic vicariates have denounced that religious practice is controlled and sometimes difficult.

Including these five, Francis has created 60 new cardinals, 49 with voting rights, in a four-year pontificate.

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