College of Cardinals grows ever more global

For the fourth time in as many years since his election, Pope Francis announced the creation of new members to the College of Cardinals on May 21. The five newest cardinals will receive their distinctive red hat at a June 28 consistory and the cardinal’s ring the following day in a Mass concelebrated with the pope. Two of the new cardinals come from Europe while one apiece hail from Latin America, Africa and Asia. Of the five new cardinals, four are from countries that previously never have had a cardinal.

A smaller group

This consistory is the smallest group of new cardinals to be named by Pope Francis. In fact, it is one of the smallest in modern history. It bears noting that the two most recent consistories of similar size over the last 50 years were called by Blessed Pope Paul VI (four new cardinals in 1977) and Pope Benedict XVI (six new cardinals in 2012) within the year before their respective death and resignation.

The Office of Cardinal
Cardinals serve the vital role of serving as the closest collaborators of the pope. As members of one of the most select groups in the world, the two primary roles of a cardinal are to assist the pope in governing the universal Church and, for those under 80 years of age, to vote for the election of a new pope.

With the five new cardinals, membership of the College of Cardinals now is made up of 121 cardinal-electors eligible to vote for the next pope, 49 of whom (or 40 percent) have been named by Pope Francis, 53 (or 44 percent) by Pope Benedict XVI and 19 (16 percent) by Pope St. John Paul II. These will remain the eligible electors until next February, when the next cardinal to turn 80 will lose his voting ability. Four of the new cardinals are in their 70s.

Last fall, Pope Francis named three cardinals from the United States — the only three Americans thus far designated in this pontificate — among a group of 17 new cardinals (13 electors and four over the age of 80). Currently there are 18 U.S. cardinals, 10 of whom are currently eligible to vote in a future conclave.

With these new cardinals, the global composition of the 121 electors will be 53 from Europe (including 24 from Italy), 15 from Africa, 19 from Asia and Oceania, 21 from Latin America and 13 from the United States and Canada.

To the peripheries

The cardinals who have been named by Pope Francis, for the most part, widely have been considered unconventional candidates. Pope Francis has raised the global profile of the body that will one day elect his successor, often turning to what he calls “the peripheries” to find cardinals who will represent Catholicism’s universal character.

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Pope Francis often has eschewed choosing as new cardinals those bishops who serve in urban population centers throughout Europe or America that have traditionally been headed by a cardinal. Instead, many of the cardinals this pope has named generally have come from poor, forgotten or emerging locales.

The latest group offers no deviation from the pope’s programmatic approach to redefining the Church’s seats of power; in a first-of-its-kind move, an auxiliary bishop will be elevated into the college’s membership.

The exception of this group of cardinals, is Cardinal-designate Juan José Omella. Each of his three predecessors as archbishop of Barcelona, Spain, has been a cardinal. Even more of his predecessors have been saints; Barcelona is regarded traditionally as an ancient see, tracing its roots back to the apostle St. James the Great.


Cardinal-designate Omella, 71, was ordained an auxiliary bishop for his home diocese of Zaragoza in 1996. As a priest, he served for a stint as a missionary in Africa and has maintained a keen interest in matters of social justice.

Cardinal-designate Omella has served as a member of the Holy See’s Congregation for Bishops since 2014 and is known to have a close relationship with several cardinals close to Pope Francis. These include Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, SDB, who has been widely known as a key player in the pope’s inner circle.

Four firsts


Cardinal-designate Anders Arborelius, OCD, 67, is bishop of Stockholm and Sweden’s first cardinal. He brings a definite ecumenical dimension to the College of Cardinals. Last fall, Cardinal-designate Arborelius was the official host to the pope during the pontiff’s historic visit to the largely Lutheran country, marking the start of the 500th anniversary year since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Cardinal-designate Arborelius converted to Catholicism from Lutheranism just two years before he entered the Carmelite novitiate in 1971. He was ordained a bishop in 1998. Cardinal-designate Arborelius has been featured as a guest and host on several programs aired on Eternal Word Television Network.


Of the six dioceses in Western Africa’s Republic of Mali, Cardinal-designate Jean Zerbo, 73, has ministered in three. Currently archbishop of Bamako, Cardinal-designate Zerbo will be the first cardinal from Mali, a country where Catholics make up 3 percent of the population. Having studied abroad with a focus on Scripture during his early priesthood, Cardinal-designate Zerbo’s nearly 30 years as a bishop have earned him the reputation as a peacemaker and bridge-builder. He is known to foster dialogue in culturally and religiously diverse Mali.

Although Laos and Cambodia share an episcopal conference, neither country has a territorial diocese. Laos is made up of four nondiocesan territories, each directly reporting to the pope. Among these is the Apostolic Vicariate of Paksé, which, with a Catholic population of just over 16,000, is headed by Cardinal-designate Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, IVD, 73. He holds the distinction of being the first Laotian cardinal. With the appointment of both Cardinals-designate Zerbo and Mangkhanekhoun to the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis is giving voice to regions that historically have experienced and are experiencing religious persecution. Among the relatives of the new Laotian cardinal is Blessed Luc Sy — one of several recently beatified Laotian martyrs killed by the country’s communist regime from 1954 to 1970.


Cardinal-designate Gregorio Rosa Chávez, 74, also is acquainted with persecution, having been a friend and collaborator of El Salvador’s martyred archbishop, Blessed Oscar Romero. Cardinal-designate Chávez also holds the singular distinction of being appointed cardinal while serving as auxiliary bishop, a position he has held in the Archdiocese of San Salvador since 1982. As a priest he held a variety of positions, from work in communications to seminary formation.

Like his friend Archbishop Romero, who was shot and killed while celebrating Mass in 1980, Cardinal-designate Chávez also received numerous death threats during his vocal opposition to the variety of injustices perpetrated by the corrupt El Salvadoran government in the 1980s. The appointment of El Salvador’s first cardinal is yet another signal from the current pontificate in approval of Archbishop Romero’s legacy and his cause of canonization.

Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV’s The Catholic Answer. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.