The new cardinals nominated by Pope Francis yet again reflect one of the major thrusts of his pontificate – that of a move out to the periphery of the Catholic Church and away from its eurocentric heart.
Of the 15 elector (under-80 years of age) cardinals named, 10 hail from Asia, Africa, Oceania and Latin America.
Announcing the cardinals during his Sunday Angelus address in St Peter’s Square, the pope said: “As was already announced, on February 14th next, I will have the joy of holding a consistory, during which I will name 15 new cardinals who, coming from 13 countries from every continent, manifest the indissoluble links between the Church of Rome and the particular churches present in the world. ”
In appointing his second batch of cardinals just one year after he named 16 new elector cardinals, Pope Francis has highlighted small, developing countries such as Cape Verde, Myanmar and Tonga.
Furthermore, the nomination of a cardinal in places as diverse as Morelia in Mexico, David in Panama and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia is an expression of his support for prelates working in dioceses afflicted by modern world problems such as violence, migration and poverty.
Two other aspects of these appointments bear a clear Francis imprint.
Firstly, of the 15 new elector cardinals, only one, Morocco-born Dominique Mamberti, prefect of the apostolic signatura, comes from the Roman curia.
Secondly, the ministries of the two new Italian cardinals most-recently named – Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona and Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento – both focus on issues dear to Francis' heart.
Archbishop Montenegro is not only a former president of the Catholic charity Caritas in Italy but he is also the head of the migrants commission of the Italian bishops conference.
Not for nothing, Francis’ first visit outside Rome was to the “boat people” island of Lampedusa, an island that lies within Archbishop Montenegro’s Sicilian diocese.
As for Archbishop Menichelli, he was specifically invited by Pope Francis to last October’s synod on the family where he spoke about the difficulties encountered by divorced and remarried Catholics who are denied the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Likewise the nomination of cardinals in Bangkok, Thailand; in Hanoi, Vietnam; and in Yangon, Myanmar reflects Francis’ special concern for the church in Asia, a concern underlined by his pastoral visit to South Korea last August.
However, even after all the new men have taken their places in the college of cardinals, the geographic/demographic balance in the body that elects popes will still be lopsided.
Europe, which represents 24 per cent of the world’s Catholics, will still have 57 of the 120 elector cardinals.
In contrast, Latin America, which represents more than 50 per cent of Catholics worldwide, will continue to have 21 cardinals.
Pope Francis also nominated five “over-80” cardinals emeriti yesterday, including an Argentine, a Colombian and a prelate from Mozambique.
Although they will receive their “red hats” next month, for age reasons they are not allowed to vote in a conclave to elect the pope.