Pope Francis named 15 new cardinals Sunday, selecting them from 14 nations including far-flung corners of the world such as Tonga, New Zealand, Cape Verde and Myanmar to reflect the diversity of the church and its growth in places like Asia and Africa compared to affluent regions.
Other cardinals hail from Ethiopia, Thailand and Vietnam.
None came from the United States and only three European nations received new cardinals – Portugal and Spain in addition to Italy. Cape Verde, Tonga and Myanmar gained cardinals for the first time.
Francis told faithful in St. Peter’s Square that the new batch of cardinals “shows the inseparable tie with the church of Rome to churches in the world.”
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Five new cardinals come from Europe, three from Asia, three from Latin America, including Mexico, and two each come from Africa and Oceania.
With his picks, the Argentine-born Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, made ever clearer that he is laying out a new vision of the church’s identity, including of its hierarchy. He looked beyond traditional metropolitan area for the “princes of the church” who will help advise him as goes forward with church reforms. Cardinals also elect his successor.
He has said repeatedly that the church must reach out to those on the margins.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the selection “confirms that the pope doesn’t feel tied to the traditional ‘cardinal sees,' which reflected historic reasons in various countries.”
“Instead we have various nominations of archbishops or bishops of sees in the past that wouldn’t have had a cardinal,” Lombardi said.
The pontiff ignored another tradition: limiting to a total of 120 the number of cardinals under 80 and eligible to vote for his successor.
Before his announcement on Sunday, there were 12 “vacancies” in this category. By naming 15 new voting-age cardinals, Francis went above that number, although Lombardi noted, “he kept very close to it (120), so it was substantially respected.”
Among Pope Francis’ picks are churchmen whose advocacy styles seem to particularly capture matters dear to his heart.
Monsignor Francesco Montenegro, a Sicilian, was at his side when Francis made his first trip a few months into his papacy. Montenegro welcomed the pontiff to Lampedusa, a tiny Sicilian island whose people have helped thousands of migrants stranded by smugglers offshore. The pontiff has repeatedly denounced human trafficking and urged more attention to people on the margins of society. He also has thundered against Mafiosi, and Montenegro’s Agrigento diocese includes towns where people have dared to rebel against Cosa Nostra.
The only native English-language speaker chosen by Francis is Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, New Zealand. Summing up his own intervention at last year’s Vatican conference on controversial family issues, including gay marriage and divorced Catholics, Dew has said the church must change its language to give “hope and encouragement.”
The archdiocese of Morelia, Mexico, has its first-ever cardinal: Alberto Suarez Inda. The archbishop, who turns 76 this month, has helped mediate political conflicts and kidnappings in one of Mexico’s most violence-plagued states.
Francis also bestowed the honor on five churchmen older than 80, including men from the pope’s native Argentina, Mozambique and Colombia.
Speaking from a Vatican window to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Francis made another surprise announcement. He said that on Feb. 12-13, he will lead of meeting of all cardinals to “reflect on the orientations and proposals for the reform of the Roman Curia,” the Vatican’s administrative bureaucracy.
Francis is using his papacy, which began in March 2013, to root out corruption, inefficiency, careerism, and other problems in the curia.
An Italian group, Noi Siamo Chiesa, which advocates reforms for the church, hailed the choice of the two Italian bishops. Group spokesman Vittorio Bellavite said Francis had gone “outside the traditional logic” of the hierarchy.
Francis said he will ‘'have the joy” on Feb. 14 of presiding over the ceremony in which the 20 churchmen will receive the red hat cardinals wear.
Maria Verza contributed to this report from Mexico City.