Pope Francis announced his list of fifteen new cardinals-to-be Sunday, concentrating on developing nations, some of whom have never had a cardinal before. They will be made cardinals at Saint Peter’s Basilica on February 14.
The Pope’s picks for the traditional “red hat” included bishops from Ethiopia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cape Verde and Tonga. This focus on poorer countries where the Catholic Church is experiencing growth is consistent with Francis’ desire to universalize the college of cardinals, granting broader representation that better illustrates the Church’s global presence.
One of Francis’s nominees, for instance, is Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi. Vietnam has a small but growing Catholic community and is especially popular with the young. It is also one of the few countries without diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
Some of Francis’ appointments appear aimed at bolstering the Church in places where it faces persecution or minority status, by elevating their leader and giving him greater prestige and visibility.
The Pope chose Archbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla of Montevideo, Uruguay, who will only be Uruguay’s second cardinal in its history. Uruguay is the least Catholic country of all of Latin America and the least religious. Anti-clerical freemasonry has had a large role in Uruguay’s history, and in the early 20th century President José Batlle y Ordoñez separated Church from State, banned crucifixes in hospitals, removed references to God and the Bible from public oaths, legalized divorce, and removed religious references from the names of cities and villages.
Only one of the 15 new nominees works in the Vatican Curia, the Moroccan-born French prelate, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.
Together with the 19 cardinals that Pope Francis named last February, he will have made a substantial mark on the group of papal electors, and of the 125 cardinals of voting age, 31 will have been named by Francis.
As of February 14, nearly half of voting-age cardinals, or 57, will still be from Europe, even though only 23% of the world’s Catholics live in the continent. The United States is also over-represented with its 18 American cardinals, and Francis’ choice not to add to that number is unsurprising.
Pope Francis also named five honorary cardinals who are more than 80 years old and thus ineligible to vote in a papal election.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome