On Sunday, Pope Francis made his first concrete step towards choosing his successor by naming 16 voting cardinals under the age of 80 who will be likely still be young enough to be eligible to vote in the next conclave. He also named three cardinals over the voting age as a nod to their service to the church.
Just who the new cardinals would be has been the buzz around the Vatican in recent days because the appointments show exactly what the popular Pope Francis is thinking as he reforms the church. Francis was expected to name the new cardinals at his Sunday Angelus, which he did, or at his weekly audience on Wednesday. The suspense of not only who, but when the cardinals would be named added to the palpable excitement.
Many of the appointments were expected, including the Vatican’s new Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, and three others who are members of Francis’s curia, or governing body of the church. Also expected was the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, who will put the United Kingdom back on the conclave map. Francis also tapped his predecessor as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Mario Aurelio Poli, which was widely expected. But others caught even the most seasoned Vatican experts off guard. Francis chose two new cardinals from Africa, two from Asia, two from North and Central America, and three from South America. Only two Europeans were chosen outside the Curial appointments. The cardinals’ primary responsibility is to vote for the new pope in a secret conclave held in the Sistine Chapel when a sitting pope dies, or, as in the case of Pope Benedict XVI, resigns.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that the appointments of Bishop Chibly Langlois of Haiti and Archbishop Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo of Burkina Faso underscored Pope Francis’s primary focus on ministering to the poor. “The choice of Cardinals of Burkina Faso and Haiti shows concern for people struck by poverty,” he said after the names were read.
Vatican expert John Allen, who is moving from the National Catholic Reporter to the Boston Globe next month, says Francis is “using the red hats” (as the tapping of cardinals is often referred to among insiders) to continue to decentralize the church from Rome. “Notably, there are two new cardinals for the two of the three largest Catholic countries on earth by population, with Orani João Tempesta, O.Cist., Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I., Archbishop of Cotabato in the Philippines,” he wrote in his analysis column of the papal choices.
Allen also says that by only appointing 16 voting cardinals, this pope is determined to only have 120 elector cardinals at any given time. His appointments of honorary cardinals were also well intended. Loris Francesco Capovilla, 98, who is the titular archbishop of Mesembria, was the personal secretary to Pope John XXIII, who will be canonized together with Pope John Paul II this spring.