Pope Francis is giving the Catholic church 13 new cardinals, including two churchmen who have worked to help migrants and several others who toil in poor countries or nations where Christians are a minority.
One is the Rev. Michael Czerny, a Jesuit like the Pope, born in 1946 in what was then Czechoslovakia and raised in Montreal, but now a Vatican official.
Francis made the surprise announcement Sunday from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
Several of his picks come from developing countries, like Cuba, Congo and Guatemala. Two are based in predominantly Muslim countries: Morocco and Indonesia.
“Their provenance expresses the missionary vocation of the church to continue to announce the merciful love of God to all men on Earth,” the pope said before reading aloud a list of their names.
Three of the 13 men are 80 or older and thus ineligible to vote in any conclave to elect a new pontiff. Francis said he wanted to honour the three for distinguished service to the church, including a Lithuanian prelate who was sentenced to years in Soviet-era work camps and exiled to Siberia for his faith.
The ceremony to formally give the churchmen the red cardinal hat will be held on Oct. 5 at the Vatican.
Work with migrants highlighted
With Francis’ papacy heavily focused on the needs of those living on society’s margins, including migrants, he chose two men whose clerical careers reflect such concerns.
One of them is Bologna Archbishop Matteo Zuppi, 63, an Italian who for some 30 years guided the Roman basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, whose doors literally have been opened to let the homeless sleep inside on cold winter nights. The basilica is the focal point for a Catholic charity, Sant’Egidio Community, which runs programs including language instruction for newly arrived migrants, and distributes hot meals and clothing to them.
The other is the Rev. Czerny, who was named in 2016 by Francis to help lead a Vatican office concerned with refugees and migrants. Long dedicated to social justice issues, he also served as executive director of the African Jesuit AIDS Network.
Among the Vatican officials chosen to be cardinals is Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, a 67-year-old Spaniard who is president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. His resume includes teaching Islamic studies in Khartoum, Sudan and Cairo, Egypt, and then at the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies.
A Guatemala City native, Huehuetenamgo bishop, Monsignor Alvaro L. Ramazzini Imeri, 72, has held several roles in Guatemala’s bishop conference, including as its leader. On the communist-Ied island of Cuba, where he has served as a priest since 1972, Monsignor Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, 71, was named by Pope Francis in 2016 to be archbishop of San Cristobal de la Habana. Congo’s new cardinal will be a Franciscan, Kinshasha Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, 59, who has headed the “justice and peace” episcopal commission as part of efforts to favour reconciliation in that African nation.
Reflecting the church’s missionary determination, Jakarta Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, 69, serves on the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization and also heads Indonesia’s nation’s episcopal conference. Rabat Archbishop Cristobal Lopez Romero, 67, is a native of Spain who worked in Spain and Paraguay. He received the Rabat post in 2017.
As in the past batches of cardinals he has chosen since becoming pontiff in 2013, this current group of new “princes of the church” has relatively few churchmen from dioceses in Europe. Besides Zuppi of Bologna, there is Luxembourg Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich, 61. He is a Jesuit who was named to the archbishop’s post by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.
Appointee rejects notion of clash with Islam
Besides Guixot and Czerny, another Vatican official among those tapped is the Holy See’s archivist and librarian, Monsignor Jose Tolentino Medonca, 53, and a native of Portugal.
Francis also said he wanted to honour three men “who have distinguished themselves for their service to the church,” even though they are 80 or older and thus no longer eligible to vote in a conclave to someday elect the pontiff’s successor.
They include a long-serving former papal diplomat in Cairo, Michael Fitzgerald, a Briton who entered the White Fathers missionary congregation in 1950. Fitzgerald also served in various posts at the Vatican, including the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
Fitzgerald has advocated building better relations with Muslim readers, rejecting the notion that there is a clash of civilizations between Islam and Christianity.
Also honoured for their service is retired Kaunas, Lithuania, archbishop, Monsignor Sigitas Tamkevicius, a Jesuit who suffered for his faith when his Baltic nation was part of the Soviet Union. Starting in 1983, Tamkevicius was arrested and ordered to serve 10 years in prison work camps for “anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation.” In 1988, he was exiled to Siberia.
The third is a retired Benguela, Angola, Monsignor Eugenio Dal Corso, who worked as a missionary starting in 1975, in Argentina and then in Africa.