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With the new cardinals, the next conclave will be unlike any other

Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis was on his way to make an important announcement on Sunday when something peculiar happened. For several minutes pilgrims gathered for the Angelus in St Peter’s Square waited for the normally punctual Pontiff to appear. Just as they were wondering if the engagement had been cancelled, the Pope appeared at his window overlooking the square. He began with an apology: he had been stuck in a lift for the past half an hour and had to be released by the fire department. Then he got down to business: he revealed that he would be creating 13 new cardinals in October.

Not even the sharpest Vatican-watcher could have predicted all of the new red hats. Many of the most obvious choices were overlooked. Most strikingly, not a single candidate from the United States was chosen. Neither Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles nor Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington was on the list. Another strong candidate, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was also passed over.

Only one bishop from Italy was named: Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna. He is arguably the best known of the 13 new cardinals. He is closely associated with the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay association in Rome that engages in conflict resolution. He took part in negotiations that helped to end the civil war in Mozambique in 1992. For that, he was made an honorary citizen of the country. It’s an interesting coincidence that Pope Francis was due to travel to Mozambique on Wednesday, just days after naming Archbishop Zuppi a cardinal.

But the cardinal-elect may be best known in the English-speaking world for contributing an essay to Fr James Martin SJ’s book Building a Bridge. Archbishop Zuppi endorsed Fr Martin’s appeal for “a new pastoral attitude” towards gay Catholics. His elevation would appear to be an implicit endorsement of this approach.

Another notable figure among the new cardinals is an Englishman, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald. Although he is now 82, and therefore unable to vote in a conclave, he is an excellent choice because he is one of the Church’s leading experts on Christian-Muslim relations. Born in Walsall, he has spent relatively little time in England, notably serving as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 2002 to 2006 and as Apostolic Nuncio to Egypt during the difficult years of 2006 to 2012.

One of the most intriguing of the new cardinals is the Vatican official Fr Michael Czerny SJ, the only non-bishop on the list. Fr Czerny, a 73-year-old Canadian, is under-secretary of the migrant and refugee section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, where he has helped to translate the Pope’s deep concern for migrants into action. In May, Francis named him as one of two special secretaries to the Amazon synod. His star is rising rapidly.

Fr Czerny is not the only Jesuit among the new cardinals. He is joined by Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg and president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (Comece); and Sigitas Tamkevičius, Archbishop Emeritus of Kaunas, Lithuania, and a former Soviet political prisoner. Some may suspect the first Jesuit pope of favouritism towards his order, but this would be unfair. He has appointed few members of the Society of Jesus to the Sacred College.

The remaining new cardinals can be categorised into three groups. They include the Vatican officials Archbishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, a historian of Islam and the current president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; and Archbishop José Tolentino Mendonça, a Portuguese poet who serves as librarian and archivist of the Roman Church. There are also leaders of major dioceses in the developing world: Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta, Indonesia; Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Archbishop Cristóbal López Romero of Rabat, Morocco; and Archbishop Juan García Rodríguez of San Cristóbal de la Habana, Cuba. Finally, there are those associated with smaller dioceses: Bishop Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri of Huehuetenango, Guatemala; and Emeritus Bishop Eugenio Dal Corso of Benguela, Angola.

With these 13 new cardinals Pope Francis further internationalises the College of Cardinals, ensuring that the next conclave will be the most geographically diverse in history.