By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis unveiled 20 cardinals from around the world on Saturday, choosing men who mostly agree with his vision of a more progressive and inclusive Church and influencing the choice of his eventual successor.
Francis, 85, presided over a ceremony known as a consistory, telling the new cardinals to show concern for ordinary people despite the high office that will bring them into contact with the powerful of the land.
The ceremony marked the eighth time Francis has put his stamp on the future of the Church with a new intake of cardinals who will serve as his top advisers and administrators at the Vatican and around the world.
Those under 80 – 16 among the 20 newcomers – can join a conclave to elect a new pope from among themselves after he dies or resigns.
They come from Britain, South Korea, Spain, France, Nigeria, Brazil, India, the United States, East Timor, Italy, Ghana, Singapore, Paraguay and Colombia.
“A Cardinal loves the Church, always with the same spiritual fire, whether he is dealing with great questions or facing daily problems, with the powerful of this world or those ordinary people who are great in the eyes of God,” Francis said.
Sitting before the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis asked them to remember “poor families, immigrants and the homeless.”
He read his sermon in a loud voice, often rising to the script, even to joke about a priest in Rome who was so close to his parishioners that he knew not only all their names, but also the names of their dogs.
Francis, who was elected pope in 2013, has now chosen 83 of the 132 cardinal electors, or about 63 percent.
With each lineup, Francis has continued what one diplomat called a “tilt toward Asia,” increasing the likelihood that the next pope will be from the region that is a growing economic and political power.
RESIGNATION IS NOT IN THE CORNER
The 85-year-old pontiff told Reuters in an interview last month that if he were to step down in the future for health reasons — rather than die in office — he had no plans to do so anytime soon. That means he could name even more cardinals next year.
After reading his speech, Francis gave them each their ring and red hat, the color of which, along with their vestments, is to remind them that they must be willing to shed their blood for the faith.
Since his election as the first Latin American pope, Francis has often broken the mold used by his predecessors to select cardinals. She often preferred men from developing countries and smaller cities, rather than from big capitals where having a cardinal was considered automatic.
Archbishop Leonardo Steiner of Manaus, Brazil, becomes the first cardinal from the Amazon region, underscoring Francis’ concern for indigenous peoples and the environment.
Another unexpected new cardinal elector is Archbishop Giorgio Marengo, an Italian who is the administrator of the Catholic Church in Mongolia. At 48, he is the youngest of the new cardinal electors.
Mongolia has fewer than 1,500 Catholics, but is strategically important because it borders China, where the Vatican is trying to improve the situation for Catholics.
“The Holy Father cares about the Church wherever it is in the world. (We) feel that a tiny community is just as important as a big community,” he told Reuters before the ceremony.
An important appointment from the richest countries is that of Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, California, who is considered a progressive. In giving San Diego its first cardinal, Francis bypassed conservative archbishops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
McElroy has been an outspoken ally of Francis’ pastoral approach to social issues such as environmental protection and a more welcoming approach to gay Catholics.
He has also opposed conservative US clergy who want to ban Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, from receiving communion because of their support for abortion rights.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Ros Russell)