Pope Francis announced Sunday that he has chosen 21 new cardinals, including prelates from Jerusalem and Hong Kong, places where Catholics are a small minority, as he continues to make his mark on the body of churchmen who will choose his successor.
The pope announced his elections during his customary weekly public appearance in St. Peter’s Square, saying the ceremony to formally install churchmen as cardinals will take place on Sept. 30.
Among those selected are several prelates who occupy or are about to assume important positions in the Vatican, including the Archbishop of La Plata, Argentina, Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, 59, whom the Pope has just appointed to lead the powerful office of the Holy See to ensure doctrinal orthodoxy and oversight. processing allegations of clergy sexual abuse around the world.
The new cardinals also include Hong Kong Bishop Stephen Sau-yan Chow, 64, and the Vatican’s top Middle East official, Monsignor Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 58, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
These two ecclesiastics lead herds in geopolitical areas of great interest to the Vatican.
On Sunday, in comments preceding his reading of the list of new cardinals, Francis expressed hope that the Israeli and Palestinian authorities would engage in «direct dialogue» to end the «spiral of violence,» a reference to recent deadly clashes.
Francis has repeatedly cited the difficulties of the Christian minority in the Middle East in recent decades.
In an April interview with The Associated Press, Pizzaballa, an Italian prelate who is the leading Catholic churchman in the Holy Land, said the region’s 2,000-year-old Christian community has come under increasing attack, with the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, emboldening extremists who have harassed clergy and vandalized religious property at a rapid pace.
For decades, the Vatican and China have experienced alternating tensions with relations improving over the communist-led nation’s insistence that it has the right to appoint bishops and the jailing of priests who professed allegiance to the pope.
Earlier this year, the Bishop of Hong Kong, who, like Francis, is a Jesuit, made the first visit to mainland China in almost 30 years by a prelate in that position.
In announcing their names, Francis said that the appointment of cardinals from around the world «expresses the universality of the Church that continues to announce God’s merciful love to all men on Earth.»
The cardinals serve as advisers to the pontiff on matters of teaching and administration, including the scandal-plagued finances of the Vatican. But their most crucial duty is to meet in a secret conclave to choose the next pontiff. Francis has named numerous batches of new cardinals in his 10-year papacy.
That means that, increasingly, the men who will vote for his successor, in the event of his resignation or death, are churchmen who support his values, priorities and perspectives.
His last previous batch of cardinals was formally elevated to that rank, known informally as «prince of the church,» in August 2022.
Three of the ecclesiastics chosen to receive the cardinal’s red include prelates who work in Africa, a continent where the Church has experienced growth in recent decades. They are Monsignor Stephen Brislin, 66, Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa; Mgr Protase Rugambwa, 63, Coadjutor Archbishop of Tabora, Tanzania; and Monsignor Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla, 59, Archbishop of Juba, South Sudan, which the Pope visited earlier this year. South Sudan gained independence from Muslim-majority Sudan in 2011 but has been beset by civil war and conflict.
The office that Francis appointed to Fernández is traditionally headed by a cardinal. But the speed with which the archbishop of La Plata was publicly designated as a cardinal – eight days after the appointment – was remarkable and highlights the attention that the pontiff gives to that position.
A US-based group that tracks how the Catholic hierarchy treats allegations of clergy sexual abuse says Francis made a «troubling» decision in choosing the Argentine archbishop, who, in 2019, refused to believe the victims who accused a priest in that archdiocese of sexually abusing children.
Other cardinals named include prelates from Lisbon, Portugal, which the pope will visit next month for a Catholic youth revelry; Penang, Malaysia; the French island of Corsica; Bogota Colombia; and Lodz, Poland.
Eighteen of the 21 new cardinals are under the age of 80 and would be eligible to vote in a conclave.