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ROME – Pope Francis appointed a new successor for the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires in his native Argentina Friday, tapping a bishop with extensive experience ministering in the country’s prisons who is also the latest in a series of relatively young episcopal appointments.
A Vatican bulletin Friday said Bishop Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva, who previously oversaw the Diocese of Río Gallegos, has been named the new Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
The Archdiocese of Buenos Aires welcomed their new pastor with a Tweet, saying they welcomed García Cuerva’s appointment “with great joy,” and asked that faithful pray for him “and his ministry in the church of Buenos Aires,” saying, “Welcome Bishop Jorge!”
García Cuerva takes over for Cardinal Mario Aurelio Poli, who was appointed as Pope Francis’s immediate successor after his election as pope in 2013, and who has now reached the age of 75, when bishops and cardinals are required to submit letters of resignation for the pope to accept or decline.
Poli on Thursday celebrated a final traditional Te Deum prayer service in the Buenos Aires cathedral, signaling the end of his mandate was near.
Born in Río Gallegos in 1968, García Cuerva was ordained a priest in 1997 and holds a licentiate degree in theology, with a specialization in church history and canon law from the Pontifical Catholic Argentine University, Santa María de los Buenos Aires. He also holds a title as a lawyer at the Catholic University of Salta, in Argentina.
After his ordination, García Cuerva held various pastoral assignments and for a stint served as the Promoter of Justice for the inter-diocesan tribunal of San Isidro before being named President of Caritas in Argentina and later diocesan delegate for prison ministry and chaplain to the various penitentiary centers in Buenos Aires.
He was named an auxiliary bishop for Lomas de Zamora in 2017 and consecrated as a bishop in March 2018. Less than a year later, in January 2019, he was appointed by Pope Francis as the bishop of Río Gallegos.
García Cuerva, celebrated as a priest and bishop for the people given his extensive pastoral experience, was named a member of the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops in July 2021, and is vice president of an international church commission for prison ministry.
Pope Francis himself while archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 until his election to the papacy in 2013 frequently visited prisons and was known to walk the streets of shanty towns, visiting with the poor and disadvantaged.
To this day, Francis visits prisons during foreign trips and for his Holy Week celebrations, often conducting the traditional foot-washing ceremony on Holy Thursday at detention centers.
At 55, García Cuerva is the latest in a trend of relatively young papal appointments for influential positions and archdioceses.
In February of this year Pope Francis named then-Bishop Frank Leo, who will turn 52 next month, as the new archbishop of Toronto, replacing Cardinal Thomas Collins, who had led the archdiocese since 2012 and who held great influence in the Canadian church.
Last year Pope Francis gave a red hat to Bishop Giorgio Marengo, prefect of the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – where the pope is expected to visit this year – making him the world’s youngest cardinal at the age of 48.
In 2021, Francis named Italian Comoni missionary Christian Carlassare as the new bishop of Rumbek, in South Sudan, when Carlassare was just 43 years old.
Carlassare was shot by tribalists who disputed his appointment shortly after his arrival, but he has since recovered and was installed running things in Rumbek during the pope’s visit to South Sudan earlier this year.
It is possible that García Cuerva himself will get a red hat during the next consistory, given the importance of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires within Argentina and the pastoral vision he shares with the pope, though with Francis, overseeing a major archdiocese is not necessarily a guarantee of being made a Prince of the Church.
This string of younger nominations seen largely as being cut from the same cloth as Francis could indicate a new and growing trend for the pontiff, whose health appears to be in decline and who might be eager to cement his legacy in global Catholicism, particularly when it comes to his own former stomping grounds.
Pope Francis has yet to return to Argentina despite having spent 10 years in office and taking dozens of international trips, including several to South and Central America.
He has frequently insisted that he does not want a return visit to Argentina to be manipulated by a political agenda or used to prop up any political party, but in an interview earlier this year said there are no elections scheduled in Argentina for 2024, as they will take place this October, so he would be free to visit while avoiding any political or partisan connotation.
RELATED: Pope Francis says he plans to visit Argentina next year
Speaking with a group of young people attending a gathering organized by Scholas Occurentes, a project founded by Francis while still in Buenos Aires, on Thursday, the pope repeated his desire to visit Argentina, saying, “My idea is to go next year. We’ll see if it’s possible.”
If Pope Francis does return to Argentina next year, it is likely that García Cuerva will among those welcoming him for his long-awaited visit home.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen