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Fresh Faces at Francis's Side - The New Cardinals

Christopher Lamb-The Tablet - Sun, Nov 20th 2016

Today the Pope will hand red hats to 17 new cardinals. Four are aged over 80; the other 13 are eligible to vote for his successor in a conclave

While the new cardinals still wear the famous red biretta they are no longer in any real sense “Princes of the Church”. Francis has up-ended the old system whereby an appointment to a certain Vatican post or elevatation to a particularly prestigious diocese almost guaranteed entry into one of the world’s most exclusive clubs. 

Instead, he has chosen men who are humble pastors, willing if necessary to put their necks on the line for their flock. Three of them – Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Patrick D’Rozario and John Ribat – come from countries that have never had a cardinal eligible to vote for the next pope: Central African Republic, Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea. What these cardinals have in common is the respect they enjoy from their fellow bishops: most of them are the elected leaders of their own country’s hierarchies. They also share Francis’ commitment to help the most vulnerable and marginalised, protect the environment and “bind up” the world’s wounds. 

Mario Zenari

Papal ambassador to Syria

It is highly unusual for a serving diplomat to be given a red hat, and the choice of Zenari is a sign of the priority the Pope places on peace efforts for his “beloved and martyred Syria”. Zenari is one of the few diplomats left in Damascus and his being named a cardinal will boost the Vatican’s mediatory efforts in a country ravaged by civil war. The 70-year-old Veronese diplomat is known for speaking his mind; he described it as a “miracle” when the planned American-led military intervention in Syria was headed off at the last minute. Risking his own safety to stay in the country, Zenari, whose previous postings include Sri Lanka and Côte d’Ivoire, refuses to give up hopes for peace. 

Dieudonné Nzapalainga

Archbishop of Bangui,

Central African Republic

Aged just 49, when the youthful-looking archbishop from war-torn Bangui receives his red hat he will become the youngest member of the college of cardinals. His honour comes a year after the Pope’s visit to the Central African Republic helped to calm tensions in the country and allowed for elections to take place. Nzapalainga’s work in collaboration with other Christian and Muslim leaders, who will be in Rome to see him receive his red hat, has impressed Francis. 

Blase Cupich

Archbishop of Chicago

He was the surprise choice to lead Chicago when Francis plucked him from relative obscurity as Bishop of Spokane to take charge of one of the most important sees in the United States. Sixty-seven-year-old Cupich, whose family is of Croatian descent, is a long-term champion of the poor and marginalised and one of the most pro-Francis voices among the US bishops. Since his appointment, he has revamped the archdiocese by appointing a woman as his chief operating officer and recruiting an excellent communications team. A strong personality, an able administrator and a strategic thinker, Cupich is a former official at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, so he knows how Rome works. The Pope has also appointed him to the important Vatican body that decides new bishops.

Joseph Tobin 

Archbishop-Elect of Newark

Four years ago, Tobin was forced out of his job in the Vatican as number two at the department for Religious - supposedly for being too soft on the American nuns that some felt needed to be brought back into line. Today, the Redemptorist priest is a cardinal and soon-to-be-leader of an archdiocese of two million Catholics just over the river from New York. Tobin, 64, is a warm, conciliatory leader who in Indianapolis welcomed a family of Syrian refugees in the face of opposition from then Indiana governor, now Vice-President elect, Mike Pence. Like Cupich, he is on the same page as Francis and, as a fluent Spanish speaker, he is increasingly a “point man” for the Pope among a US hierarchy that can be lukewarm, occasionally even hostile, to many of aspects of this papacy. 

Carlos Osoro Sierra

Archbishop of Madrid

Known as a “Spanish Francis”, Archbishop Osoro Sierra makes time for bread-and-butter pastoral work, such as being a spiritual director to young people and hearing confessions, even though he leads one of the most prominent dioceses in Europe. Appointed to Madrid in 2014, he is now vice-president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, and is seen by many as a breath of fresh air after his predecessor Cardinal Antono Rouco Varela, who saw himself as a “Spanish deputy Pope” to John Paul II and Benedict XVI. While equally firm in his defence of church teaching, the 71-year-old Sierra prefers a Church that is creative and outward–looking. 

Sérgio da Rocha

Archbishop of Brasilia

At 59, he is one of Brazil’s younger bishops, but Da Rocha has won the respect of his peers: two years ago, he was voted in as President of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference. Da Rocha shares many of the same concerns as Francis. Following the Pope’s example in Buenos Aires, Da Rocha is known for spending weekends out on the “peripheries” of his large, sprawling archdiocese, and he frequently speaks of the need to care for the environment. He succeeded Cardinal João Braz de Aviz – a Latin American candidate for the papacy in 2013 – and since then has created new parishes and pastoral plans for young people and the homeless.

Patrick D’Rozario

Archbishop of Dhaka

The leader of Bangladesh’s 350,000 Catholics, a tiny flock in the overwhelmingly Muslim country of 153 million people. A priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, D’Rozario is head of Bangladesh’s bishops’ conference and of the country’s small inter-church group. He led Christians in prayer following the terror attack on a bakery in Dhaka in July which left 29 dead. The 73-year-old cardinal will be hosting the Pope during his visit to India and Bangladesh next year. 

Baltazar Enrique

Porras Cardozo

Archbishop of Merida

His appointment – meaning that Venezuela has two voting cardinals for the first time – was widely seen as a counter-balance to Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, a Benedict XVI appointee who was among those who signed a letter to the Pope challenging his approach to doctrinal issues at the start of the 2016 synod on the family. Porras Cardozo, 72, was sharply critical of the country’s former president, Hugo Chavez, and is likely to be a key adviser to Francis as he attempts to mediate in Venezuela’s political crisis.

Jozef De Kesel

Archbishop of Malines-Brussels

A very different beast from his conservative predecessor, André-Joseph Léonard – who was overlooked for a red hat – the Belgian De Kesel, 69, has spoken positively about gays, the ordination of married men, women deacons and giving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. He has, however, taken a firm line on euthanasia, saying that no Catholic hospital or institution should be the scene of a “mercy killing”. A protégé of the progressive-minded Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the courteous and affable De Kesel presents a positive face of Catholicism in an increasingly secular country. 

Maurice Piat

Archbishop of Port Louis

Francis likes to look to the “ends of the earth” when making new cardinals, and has done just that in giving a red hat to Archbishop Piat, who serves on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. The epitome of a grounded pastor, this Spiritan priest often wears a simple white shirt and modest pectoral cross, and describes himself as a “happy bishop in the midst of his people”. According to a local newspaper, whenever the 75-year-old visits “everywhere and always, one feels taken up by the Gospel”.

Kevin Farrell

Prefect of the Vatican dicastery for laity, family and life

The 69-year-old Dublin-born former Bishop of Dallas was chosen by the Pope to be the first leader of the new family life department. He has little truck with opponents of Amoris Laetitia, saying Francis’ text needs no “interpreting” and is a “work of the Holy Spirit”. Although once a member of the rigidly conservative Legionaries of Christ, when in Dallas he upset gun-toting Texans by calling for stronger legislation on firearms. A Spanish speaker, before his move to Dallas, as a priest in the Washington diocese, Farrell worked tirelessly to help Hispanic immigrants. Known as a first-class administrator.

Carlos Aguiar Retes

Archbishop of Tlalnepantla

The Mexican archbishop worked closely with the then Cardinal Bergoglio in drafting the landmark Aparecida document in 2007, a programmatic text for the Church in Latin America. A former president of both Celam – the Latin and Central American bishops’ body – and the Mexican bishops’ conference, Retes has called for greater responsibility to be given to local hierarchies. Austere, pastorally sensitive and with strong intellectual credentials, the 66-year-old is the sort of bridge- building figure that fellow cardinals may be eyeing up at a future conclave.  

John Ribat

Archbishop of Port Moresby

2016 has been a year of accolades for Papua New Guinea’s first cardinal: his red hat comes a few months after being knighted by the Queen. His nomination is also another nod to the margins by Francis, as PNG is home to barely 200,000 Catholics. A member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Ribat also heads up the Oceania bishops’ federation. Described as a “humble, pastoral and committed leader”, like Francis, he opposes the death penalty and has called for more action to be taken to protect the environment.


The four cardinals who are over 80, and therefore unable to vote in a conclave, are: Anthony Soter Fernandez, emeritus archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Renato Corti, emeritus archbishop of Novara, Italy; Sebastian Koto Khoarai, emeritus bishop of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho; and the Albanian priest who was imprisoned in labour camps for 28 years, Fr Ernest Troshani Simoni.

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