The newest — and first — cardinal-elect of the island nation of East Timor says he was completely surprised by his appointment by Pope Francis over the weekend. 

“When I heard this news, I was so shocked I almost fainted,” Archbishop Dom Virgilio do Carmo da Silva told reporters May 30. "I never dreamed of this and I never looked for it.”

Pope Francis on Sunday announced the names of 21 men whom he will create as cardinals at an Aug. 27 consistory. At age 54, Da Silva could be eligible to vote in conclaves for 26 years.

President Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor paid a courtesy call to congratulate da Silva, who leads the Archdiocese of Dili.

East Timor, or Timor-Leste, occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor, which it shares with Indonesia. The population of the country, which was colonized by Portugal, is nearly 98% Catholic and very youthful — approximately 40% of the population is below the age of 15 and the country’s median age is 20, according to the CIA World Factbook. 

Da Silva, a priest of the Salesians of St. John Bosco, has led the local Church of Dili since 2016 as a bishop; he became an archbishop when the see was raised to an archdiocese in 2019. He serves as vice president of the national bishops’ conference. 

He made perpetual vows in 1997, and was ordained a priest the following year.

He said he views his elevation as a blessing for the heavily Catholic country, which recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the restoration of its independence.

Pope Francis has expressed interest in visiting the region in person. In an October 2021 interview, the pope said that in 2022 he would like to make trips to Papua New Guinea and East Timor, which had been planned for late 2020 before they were canceled because of the pandemic.

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