Many were convinced that the year 2023 would end with a consistory for new cardinals — with this one Francis will have celebrated nine consistories in ten years of his pontificate — but no one expected an announcement in July with the ‘creation’ of 21 cardinals at the end of September. It comes on the eve of the start of the first of the two Synods on synodality and in the wake of the last one, a year ago, for the eighth consistory, celebrated on 27 August 2022.
Scrolling through the list of the 21 names, 18 of whom are under eighty years of age and therefore electors in a possible conclave, there are both confirmations within the Holy See (for example, the three new prefects of Dicasteries, that of Bishops, Oriental Churches and the Doctrine of the Faith) and in the world (for example, the red hat for the new Archbishops of Madrid and of Bogotá). But there are also ‘surprises’ that are in line with the choices made to date by the Successor of Peter. Two nuncio-electors constitute the most significant novelty, the precedent for which is to be sought in the consistory of November 2016, when Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Pope’s ambassador to Syria, was created a cardinal and where he has remained in that role. In this case, both 76-year-old Emil Paul Tscherrig, apostolic nuncio to Italy, and 77-year-old Christophe Pierre, nuncio to the United States, are prelates now nearing the end of their diplomatic service. Particularly noteworthy is the inclusion of Pierre, a man of great equilibrium, who has played and continues to play an important role in collaborating with Pope Francis in the choice of new bishops for the US Church.
Also striking is the nomination of Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the first Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem to receive the red hat. The ‘mother’ Church of the Holy City par excellence, the Latin Church of a land, the Holy Land, that continues to be a breeding ground for hatred, clashes and violence, now has one more credit in its involvement in the governance of the universal Church through collaboration with the Pope to which each new cardinal is called.
Significant, in his attention to the peripheries and frontline Churches, are the appointments of Stephen Mulla, Archbishop of Juba, in South Sudan, a country visited by Francis last February; Stephen Brislin, Archbishop of Cape Town, in South Africa; and Protase Rugambwa, coadjutor Archbishop of Tabora in Tanzania: all three African metropolitan sees will have a cardinal for the first time.
Also noteworthy is the inclusion among the electors of the new Bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow Sau-Yan, and the Rector Major of the Salesians, Ángel Fernández Artime. Amongst the over-80s are the former nuncio and former secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Agostino Marchetto, a scholar of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, and the elderly Argentinean Capuchin friar, Luis Dri, a confessor: both of whom Francis knew well before his election to the papacy.
With the 30 September consistory, the number of cardinal electors in the event of a conclave will rise to 137. That’s well above the ceiling of 120 set by Paul vi , but which has already been exceeded on several occasions by both John Paul ii and Benedict xvi . Statistics at the end of September will mean Europe will have 53 electors (including 15 Italians); 15 electors from North America (11 from the USA, 4 from Canada); 24 electors from Latin America, 19 electors from Africa; 23 electors from Asia and 3 electors from Oceania.
By Andrea Tornielli