Pope Francis is putting a personal imprint on the group of men who will choose his successor, tapping like-minded cardinals from some of the world’s smallest, most remote and poverty-wracked nations to help him run the Catholic Church.
Old friends, Vatican bureaucrats and sentimental favourites are also getting red hats on Saturday when Francis presides over his first cardinal-making ceremony to bring 19 new “princes” of the church into the College of Cardinals. Two come from Africa, two from Asia and six from Francis’ native Latin America, which is home to nearly half the world’s Catholics but is grossly under-represented in the church’s hierarchy.
There’s Cardinal-designate Chibly Langlois, who isn’t even an archbishop but rather the 55-year-old bishop of Les Cayes and now Haiti’s first-ever cardinal. Another Caribbean cardinal, Kelvin Edward Felix, was for 25 years the archbishop of tiny Castries, St Lucia, with a population of 163,000.
The archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua, Leopoldo Jose Brenes Solorzano, is an old friend who worked alongside the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in preparing the seminal document of the pope’s vision of a missionary church – the so-called Aparecida Document produced by the 2007 summit of Latin American bishops. Nicaragua’s second cardinal ever, Brenes has made an impression at the Vatican with his unruly gray curls and the blue jeans he donned for the flight to Rome.
Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, archbishop of Seoul, South Korea, has serious Catholic credentials: His ancestors were among the lay people who brought Christianity to the Korean peninsula in the 19th century, and his great-great grandfather and his wife were executed as part of the Joseon Dynasty’s persecution of Christians, Asian Catholic news agency UCANews reported. Of the six children in his immediate family, three became priests.
Though he hails from the other side of the planet, Burkina Faso Cardinal Philippe Nakellentuba Ouedraogo sounded an awful lot like Francis in his 2013 Christmas homily. Nakellentuba denounced the “inequality, injustice, poverty and misery” of today’s society where employers exploit their workers and the powerful few have most of the money while the poor masses suffer.
Francis is “emphasising his preference for what he calls the periphery, or the margins,” noted Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent for the British Catholic magazine The Tablet.
Indeed, in a personal letter to his new cardinals, Francis asked them to accept their nominations with joy but to refrain from “any kind of expression of worldliness, from any celebration alien to the evangelical spirit of austerity, moderation and poverty.”
One cardinal is sitting out the ceremony even as he makes a record by living to see it: Cardinal Loris Francesco Capovilla, aged 98, is becoming the oldest member of the College of Cardinals, but due to his age couldn’t make the trip from northern Italy. His is a sentimental choice for Francis: For over a decade, Capovilla was the private secretary to Pope John XXIII, whom Francis will make a saint alongside Pope John Paul II in April in a sign of his admiration for the pope who convened the Second Vatican Council.
Capovilla, Felix and the emeritus archbishop of Pamplona, Spain are all over age 80 and, as such, ineligible to vote in a conclave to elect Francis’ successor.