Cardinals hold palm branches at the start of the Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican on March 20, 2016. Many of the Pope's latest cardinal appointments comes from countries and dioceses that has never had any representation in the College of Cardinals. RNS Photo/courtesy of Max Rossi, Reuters

Off the beaten path: Pope looks far afield for new cardinals

  • October 11, 2016

VATICAN CITY – In choosing 17 new members of the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis has once again looked to countries and dioceses that had never been represented in the body that advises the Pope and will elect his successor.

Pope Francis chose men from 14 nations, to bring the total number of countries represented in the College to 79. The cardinal electors — the prelates under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new Pope — currently represent 57 nations; after the consistory to create new cardinals, the group will bring together men from 60 countries.

Announcing the names of the new cardinals Oct. 9, Pope Francis said, "Their coming from 11 nations expresses the universality of the Church that proclaims and witnesses the good news of God's mercy in every corner of the Earth."

Thirteen of the cardinals are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope. The four over 80 being are being honoured for their "clear Christian witness." That group includes Fr. Ernest Simoni, a priest of the Archdiocese of Shkodre-Pult, Albania, 88, who moved Pope Francis to tears in 2014 when he spoke about his 30 years in prison or forced labour under Albania's militant atheistic regime.

Seven of the 14 nations did not have a cardinal at the time of the Pope's announcement. Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Mauritius and Papua New Guinea will now have cardinal-electors. Malayasia, Lesotho and Albania will be represented in the College of Cardinals, although their cardinals will be too old to vote in a conclave.

Under Pope Francis, the idea that some large archdioceses are always led by a cardinal is fading. Although his latest choices included the archbishops of Chicago, Malines-Brussels and Madrid, other traditional cardinal sees like Venice, Turin, Baltimore and Philadelphia were bypassed.

Not only did Pope Francis name the first ever cardinal electors from Bangladesh, Central African Republic and Papua New Guinea, he named Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin the first cardinal elector of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis; Archbishop Baltazar Porras Cardozo the first cardinal elector of Merida, Venezuela; and Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes the first archbishop of Tlalnepantla, Mexico, to be a cardinal elector. 

The 2016 consistory will be the third called by Pope Francis to create new cardinals and, once again, members of the Roman Curia received just a nod. Irish-born U.S. Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, the prefect of the new Vatican office for laity, family and life, is the only member of the Curia chosen this time. Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Pope's nuncio to Syria, also was tapped, but the Pope made it clear that the Italian archbishop would remain in war-torn Syria.

After the consistory and distribution of red hats Nov. 19, the electors named by Pope Francis will account for about 36 per cent of the total. That leaves about 46 per cent named by Pope Benedict and just over 17 per cent by St. John Paul II.

St. John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI expanded the size of the College of Cardinals and began the modern internationalization of the body. In 1970, Blessed Paul decreed that cardinals over the age of 80 could not vote in a conclave, and in 1975 he set the limit of cardinal electors at 120 men.

Fifty-two per cent of the members of the conclave that elected Pope Francis were European. After the upcoming consistory, Europeans will be down to 44.6 per cent of the electors, with Italians accounting for 20.6 percent of that group.

The second-largest group will be from North and South America. Their percentage will grow to 28 per cent when the new cardinals are inducted. With three new U.S. cardinals, the United States and Canada will account for 10.7 percent of the college.

The percentage of African electors will rise slightly to 12.4 per cent, while the percentage from Asia will decline slightly to 11.7 per cent. Cardinal-electors from Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific will comprise 3.3 per cent of the college.

At 49, Cardinal-designate Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Central African Republic, will become the youngest member of the College of Cardinals. Only one other member of the body, Cardinal Soane Mafi of Tonga, 54, was born in the 1960s.

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