How does this change the composition of the College of Cardinals?
At the end of 2016, cardinals eligible to vote in a Conclave will number 120, the maximum limit set by Paul VI to elect a Pope. Out of these 120 cardinals, 44 were created by Pope Francis, 56 by Benedict XVI, and 20 by St. John Paul II.
In three consistories, Pope Francis was thus able to strongly shape the College of Cardinals according to his wish of a more universal Church from the peripheries.
A future conclave could draw 54 cardinals from Europe and 34 from the Americas, with 17 from North America, four from Central America, and 14 from South America. Another 14 cardinals could come from Asia, 15 from Africa and four from Oceania.
Pope Francis showed great attention to Oceania, whose membership increased by three new cardinals under Pope Francis. The Pope has named a cardinal from Oceania for each consistory of his pontificate.
Italy is still the most represented country, with 25 cardinals. However, the European weight in a future conclave is diminished: in 2005, there were 57 European cardinals, in 2013 there were 59, and now there are only 54.
For the first time ever, Bangladesh, Central African Republic and Papua New Guinea are represented by a cardinal.
These numbers show Pope Francis’ interest in emphasizing the role of peripheries.
When a list of cardinals is released, the order of Cardinals is also noteworthy.
For example, when Pope Francis announced the Feb. 22, 2014 Consistory, the first name on the list was Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, but the second name on the list was Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and not that of Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was a signal that Pope Francis wanted to emphasize synodality rather than a curial post. This major focus on synodality rather than on a doctrinal office was then proved by the convocation of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family and the 2015 Synod on the same topic.
The list of this latest consistory is opened by Archbishop Mario Zenari, nuncio to Syria, and the second in the list is Archbishop Nzapalainga of Bangui, while the Archbishop of Madrid – an important seat indeed – is only third in the list.
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Because of this order, we can surmise that Pope Francis wants the focus of this consistory on the populations who suffer the outcomes of a long term war. Nuncio Zenari, considers himself a veteran of wars. He was papal nuncio in Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka while both of these countries were stricken by conflicts. He will stay as nuncio to the “beloved and martyred Syria,” as Pope Francis said when he announced the list.
As a cardinal, the nuncio may even be characterized as a sort of special envoy from Pope Francis. That was the role of Cardinal Fernando Filoni when the Pope sent him to Iraq in 2014 after it had been shocked by Islamic State group violence.
Turning to the appointment of Archbishop Nzapalainga, it is noteworthy to remember that Pope Francis opened the first Holy Door of the Year of Mercy in Bangui in November 2015. The Archbishop of Bangui is also well known for his role in the country’s peace talks.
Number six on the list of new cardinals – after Archbishops Osoro Sierra, da Rocha and Cupich – is Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
To understand more deeply how Pope Francis is changing the shape of the College of Cardinals, another data point should be noted.
In three consistories, Pope Francis created 44 new red hats, and only five of them went to curial positions: the 2014 consistory gave three red hats to the curia, the 2015 consistory gave just one. This upcoming consistory will see the elevation of Bishop Kevin Farrell, who has just taken the post of Prefect of the Dicastery Laity, Family and Life.