Understanding Pope Francis – Pope’s cardinal choices did not fail to surprise


Pope Francis announced the naming of 19 new cardinals on Jan. 12, 16 of whom can vote in future conclaves. This was a key moment in the early stages of this pontificate, as a tremendous amount can be inferred from a pope’s choice of the men he chooses to choose his eventual successor. And like so much else with Francis, he did not fail to surprise.
He selected no one from the United States and only one person from North America (Quebec’s Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, who did attend school in New Hampshire). He left the traditional Italian “cardinalatial” dioceses of Torino and Venice without votes in upcoming conclaves, instead bestowing the honour upon a famously humble bishop of Perugia – a city which has not had a cardinal since Leo XIII was elected from that diocese in the 1800’s. He added a little-known, but beloved, pastor from a relatively tiny city in the Philippines, and included developing nations such as Haiti and Burkina Faso in the class. He also gave a red hat to John XXIII’s personal secretary (I admit I had to read that name three times, as I was stunned to find out he was still on our side of eternity. At 98, he will, God-willing, live to see his previous boss canonized in the coming months).
Francis followed the tradition of limiting the likely electors to 120 -Francis famously travelled without accompaniment when he received the honour in 2001, asking people in his diocese to spend the money they would have laid out for the trip on the poor instead. His letter to the incoming cardinals asked that they too view the nomination as a service rather than a prize, and to celebrate in an “evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety, and poverty.”
Since the archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, was among the choices, I am delighted to be representing the Centre for Catholic Studies and the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle in attending the ceremony, called a consistory, in Rome on Feb. 22, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, and I will of course offer reflections on the trip for the Star Herald. After having worked for a now-deceased cardinal myself, the solemnity and liturgical beauty of such events still hold a very special place in my heart.

Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., of Collingswood, is a Research Associate at Durham University’s Centre for Catholic Studies in Northeast England.