ROME — Pope Francis announced Sunday that he would create 21 new cardinals in August, selecting clerics from all corners of the world to reinforce the church’s global reach, as he has done with past choices to the rank of cardinal.
“Let us pray for the new cardinals, that by confirming their adherence to Christ, they will help me in my ministry as bishop of Rome for the good of all God’s faithful,” Francis said Sunday after giving the names of the soon-to-be cardinals at the end of his traditional greetings to thousands of Roman Catholic faithful in St. Peter’s Square.
The list of new “princes of the church,” as cardinals are called, includes prelates from Brazil, East Timor, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Paraguay, Singapore and South Korea, denoting a deliberate shift away from Europe, the cradle of cardinals for centuries. Eight Europeans did make the list, though only four are eligible to vote for Francis’ successor, while the only North American is Msgr. Robert McElroy, a bishop from San Diego.
The College of Cardinals is responsible for the election of a pope, and its composition naturally impacts the selection of future pontiffs. This is the ninth set of cardinals that Francis has tipped for a “red hat,” and of the 21 men, 16 are under 80, the cutoff age to vote on a new pope once Francis dies or retires. Five of his picks are too old to vote, including three from Italy, one from Belgium and one from Colombia.
In the 1970s, Pope Paul VI set a limit capping the number of cardinals who could vote for a new pope at 120. That did not deter Pope John Paul II from exceeding that limit in 2001, though the number was back down to 115 by the time he died in 2005.
Francis has promoted a pastoral vision of the Roman Catholic Church, one that nurtures mercy and inclusion and reaches out to the poor and the marginalized, including those who are also the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, another of the pope’s concerns.
After the consistory — as the ceremony to install the new cardinals is known — on Aug. 27, Francis will have appointed 83 of the future cardinal electors, increasing the possibility that his successor will reflect at least parts of that vision. Of the remaining 50 cardinals, 12 were appointed by John Paul II and 38 by Benedict, according to Vatican statistics.
On the list of new cardinals are Archbishop Arthur Roche of Britain, who last May replaced Cardinal Robert Sarah as head of the Vatican’s liturgy office; Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik of South Korea, who was appointed head of the Vatican’s clergy office last June; and Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga of Spain, who governs the Vatican City-State. There is also a missionary priest, the Italian-born Bishop Giorgio Marengo, currently apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, who at 48 will be the youngest member of the College of Cardinals.
In making his selections, now and in previous consistories, Francis has been upending centuries of tradition by choosing cardinals from cities that have never before had cardinals. It used to be that becoming archbishop of a major city like Venice, Milan, Los Angeles or Philadelphia, was an almost certain steppingstone to becoming a cardinal. Currently none of the archbishops of these cities are cardinals.
“That just isn’t the pattern anymore with Francis; he appoints people from places that never had cardinals before, and that is revolutionary,” the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior analyst for Religion News Service who has written books about the Roman Catholic hierarchy, said in a telephone interview. “He looks for the person that he thinks will contribute the best to the church and that supports his vision of where the church should go.”
On Sunday, Francis named prelates from far-flung places, including the Franciscan archbishop of Manaus, Brazil, Leonardo Ulrich Steiner; Peter Ebere Okpaleke, who in 2020 became the first bishop of Ekwulobia, a new diocese in Nigeria; and Filipe Neri António Sebastião do Rosário Ferrão, archbishop of Goa and Daman, India.
Bishop McElroy will be the first cardinal for the Diocese of San Diego and is a longtime supporter of Francis’ pastoral agenda, according to Catholic media. He has also expressed support for allowing women to be deacons and for improved ministry toward gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
On Sunday, Francis also announced that he would convene all of the church’s cardinals on Aug. 29 and 30 to “reflect on” the constitution that he introduced this year to govern the bureaucracy that runs the Roman Catholic Church.