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Pope Welcomes New Cardinals, Many From Developing World

Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday. The pope created 19 new cardinals in a ceremony Saturday in St Peter's Basilica.
Peter Macdiarmid
Getty Images
Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday. The pope created 19 new cardinals in a ceremony Saturday in St Peter's Basilica.

In a solemn ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Francis on Saturday bestowed red hats on his first batch of cardinals.

Ten of the 19 new princes of the church come from outside Europe, including some of the poorest countries in the world.

Their selection is a sign that the reforms Francis is introducing include a restructuring of how the Catholic Church will be governed.

The first pope from the developing world chose many of his new cardinals from the periphery of the globe. They come from the Philippines, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and Haiti –- places that had never had a cardinal before.

John Allen, Vatican analyst for the Boston Globe, said the choices show the pope's desire to reduce the number of European cardinals and cardinals from the curia – the central Vatican administration.

It could be the start of a shift in the College of Cardinals to global south, where two-thirds of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live today.

"Francis is making some choices," Allen said, "and one of those choices clearly is that he wants to shift the action in the church from the traditional centers of power to places that he thinks that for too long have been ignored and overlooked."

Only four members of the Vatican administration were tapped to become cardinals.

Bishops, wearing purple skull caps, are shown on Thursday at the Vatican. They were elevated to cardinals in a ceremony Saturday.
Alessandra Tarantino / AP
Bishops, wearing purple skull caps, are shown on Thursday at the Vatican. They were elevated to cardinals in a ceremony Saturday.

Representing New Trends

One of those is Gerhard Mueller, head of the Vatican's doctrinal office and a known conservative. That's a sign that Francis does not want only prelates who are on his same wavelength, said Marco Politi, Vatican correspondent for the Italian daily Il Fatto.

"The pope wants the college of cardinals to represent the different trends within church as they are," he said.

When Francis announced his selections last month, perhaps the biggest surprise was the unprecedented letter he sent to each newly designated cardinal.

He told them that the red hat should not be seen as a promotion, much less an honor. He asked them to accept the nomination with joy, but in a way that avoids any sign of worldliness, because cardinals should see themselves as servants marked by humility, he said.

This is in stark contrast to the past when wealthy donors or friendly religious orders threw lavish celebrations on the cardinals' behalf, noted John Allen.

Normally, this week in Rome "is like Oscars week in Hollywood. Everyone has a party, a cocktail and often these are swanky black-tie affairs," he said.

Allen said Francis is trying to redefine leadership in the Catholic Church away from an image of power and privilege.

"It 's going to have to change in the direction of greater humility, simplicity, modesty," he added.

Seeking Consensus

In advance of Saturday's ceremony, Francis met with the entire College of Cardinals to discuss badly needed reform of the scandal-plagued Vatican Bank and preparations for an important worldwide bishops' assembly in October on the family.

The discussion likely included the results of a worldwide survey that revealed many Catholics in the U.S. and Europe rejected as unrealistic church teaching on birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce.

Before the cardinals began their discussion, Francis urged them to find what he called intelligent, courageous and loving ways to tackle these and other contentious issues.

Vatican analyst Marco Politi says Francis is inspired by the collegiality of the Second Vatican council in the 1960's and wants cardinals and bishops to play a more decisive role in church governance.

"He does not want to make changes by himself, like a monarch," Polti said. "He wants to create an atmosphere like in Vatican Council Two where the bishops discuss and then together in a common way they take their decision."

Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent for the British Catholic weekly, The Tablet, said Francis has begun not only reforming the Vatican but also the papacy itself.

"In its style, in its tone, the whole ethos surrounding the old Vatican court which he has basically just dismantled, he is sharing his power, he has begun to set down the foundation stones for a new model of governance, or rather a recovery of an old ancient model of governance," Mickens said.

If he's able to carry it out, Mickens added, it will be the biggest change in the Catholic Church in a thousand years.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.