Pope Francis creates 21 new cardinals, expanding body’s geographic diversity


Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals from across the world at a Saturday morning consistory in St. Peter’s Square (Sept. 30, 2023). / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Sep 30, 2023 / 07:53 am (CNA).

Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals from across the world at a Saturday morning consistory in St. Peter’s Square, reflecting on how the geographic expansion of the Church’s leadership represents a fulfillment of the promise of Pentecost.

“You new Cardinals have come from different parts of the world, and the same Spirit that made the evangelization of your peoples fruitful now renews in you your vocation and mission in and for the Church,” the pope told the new cardinals in his homily for the event, 18 of whom are under the age 80, and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave.

The Sept. 30 consistory, which saw cardinals created from 15 different countries, was in continuity with Francis’s steady geographic diversification of the College of Cardinals, carried out over the nine consistories he has held during his 10-year pontificate.

The new red hats include Cardinal Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla of Juba, the first-ever cardinal from South Sudan. Two other African prelates — Cardinal Stephen Brislin from Cape Town, South Africa and Cardinal Protase Rugambwa of Tabora, Tanzania — were also elevated. The total percentage of cardinal electors from Africa is now 14%, a rise of 5% since 2013.

The Pope also created cardinals representing Catholic communities in non-majority Christian countries: Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Stephen Chow of Hong Kong, and Cardinal Sebastian Francis of Penang, Malaysia. In total, 16% of all cardinal-electors are now from Asia, compared to 9% before Francis’s pontificate.

Five new cardinals from Latin America — including three from Francis’ native Argentina — were also created on Saturday, and the total percentage of electors from that of the world now stands at 18%, a modest 2% higher than before the Argentinian pope began his reign.

“Mother Church, who speaks all languages, is one and is Catholic,” said Pope Francis at the consistory. The Pope has now created cardinals from 66 different countries, including several from countries that have never had a red hat, like Mongolia and Singapore.

In contrast to the increase in cardinals from the global South and East, the percentage of cardinals from Europe has fallen from 53% in 2013 to 39% today — though this seems to be part of a larger trend; all but one elector in the 1903 conclave, for instance, were European, with more than half from Italy.

Geographic diversity, though, was not the only priority represented in the Pope’s new cardinals, as key ecclesial collaborators were also included. Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, the pope’s longtime theological ghostwriter who was recently tapped to head the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, received a red hat, as did Cardinal Christoph Pierre, a Frenchman and the pope’s representative to the United States.

Cardinal Robert Prevost, a native of Chicago who leads the Dicastery for Bishops; and Cardinal Americo Aguiar, the Portuguese prelate who led the organization and implementation of World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, were also elevated during the consistory.

With the 18 new electors, the current number of cardinals eligible to pick the next pope stands at 136 — 99, or 72% of whom were picked by Pope Francis. The expansion of the College of Cardinals was symbolically expressed at the consistory, as, after receiving his red biretta, each new cardinal went to sit with the veteran cardinals who had gathered for the event.

During his homily, the Pope shared a guiding image for the College of Cardinals: that of “a symphony orchestra, representing the harmony and synodality of the Church.”

“Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design.”

The pope compared his role in the symphony to that of the conductor, who “has to listen more than anyone else.” But the true protagonist of the Church, Pope Francis said, is the Holy Spirit, who “creates variety and unity,” and “is harmony itself”:

“A symphony thrives on the skillful composition of the timbres of different instruments: each one makes its contribution, sometimes alone, sometimes united with someone else, sometimes with the whole ensemble. Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design. This is why mutual listening is essential: each musician must listen to the others. If one listens only to himself, however sublime his sound may be, it will not benefit the symphony; and the same would be the case if one section of the orchestra did not listen to the others, but played as if it were alone as if it were the whole. In addition, the conductor of the orchestra is at the service of this kind of miracle that is each performance of a symphony. He has to listen more than anyone else, and at the same time his job is to help each person and the whole orchestra develop the greatest creative fidelity: fidelity to the work being performed, but also creative, able to give a soul to the score, to make it resonate in the here and now in a unique way.

“Dear brothers and sisters, it does us good to reflect upon ourselves as the image of the orchestra, in order to learn to be an ever more symphonic and synodal Church. I propose this especially to you, members of the College of Cardinals, in the consoling confidence that we have the Holy Spirit — he is the protagonist — as our master: the interior master of each one of us and the master of walking together. He creates variety and unity; He is harmony itself. Saint Basil was looking for a synthesis when he said: “Ipse harmonia est”, he is harmony itself. We entrust ourselves to his gentle and strong guidance, and to the gracious care of the Virgin Mary,” the pope said.

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  1. Yes, to geographic DIVERSITY and to the “the common design,” as “a symphony orchestra, representing the harmony and synodality of the Church.” Such diversity of cardinals began with Pope Pius X when, more than a century ago, Italians for the first time accounted for less than have of the total college of cardinals.

    But, what too, about more EXPLICITLY [see below] the horizontal and vertical unity, both, as in the Eucharistic union, of not only the:

    “…anamnesis of the whole body of sacred history but also the anamnesis of the whole community of saints [!], of those who have died and of all the living believers throughout the world [….] the Church cannot organize herself according to her own design [!] but can BECOME herself again and again only by the gift of the Holy Spirit requested in the Name of Jesus Christ, that is, through the sacrament” (citation in Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” 1982/1987).

    So, the entire Communion of Saints is present with each of us in each [!] celebration of the Eucharist. And “explicit” recollected-ness of our already belonging becomes crucial as members of the SYNOD respond to the so-called “hot-button” issues…The response to the invasive LGBTQ lifestyle (and all other addictions afflicting society) is NOT Cardinal Hollerich & Cos. devolution of objective morality, nor even his later/walking-back remark that all he wants is a change in “attitude.”

    The response is a clear re-member-ing of our baked-in “belonging” by our very nature and the inborn Natural Law. About this gifted belonging, the DOCTRINE (horrors!)—in the Creed, each of us/we discover NOT the synodal (?) constructions of guru Fr. James Martin, but instead the real and liberating self-understanding of, say, Fr. Luigi Guissani:

    “. . . yes, religion is in fact that which man does in his solitude; but it is also that in which the human person discovers [not constructs!] his essential companionship. Such companionship is, then, more original to us [!] than our solitude…Therefore, BEFORE SOLITUDE there is companionship [!], a companionship that embraces my solitude. Because of this, solitude is no longer true solitude, but a cry calling back that hidden companionship (“The Religious Sense,” 1990).

    “God made you/us THIS way.” The compassionate Synodal response to this “cry calling back that hidden companionship,” then, is not any superficial and consensual attitude toward the Zeitgeist. But instead, the fully personal REALITY within the Creed—the fulfilling “yes” affirmed by the magisterium (with its included Natural Law/Veritatis Splendor, n. 115).

    Deeper than either personal solitude, or congregationalism, or even synodal diversity: not all real companionship can be sexualized or blessed by the Church.

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