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World

Opinion: New cardinals boost for poor countries

Pope Francis inducted 19 new priests into the College of Cardinals on Saturday. His choice ignored some dioceses that traditionally bear the red hat, and included others no one had considered, says DW's John Berwick.

Interpreting the pope's words and actions used to be a profession in itself. Vatican correspondents, known in the trade as "Vaticanisti," were rather like Kremlinologists during the Cold War. Modern popes have been pretty good at the theological acrobatics necessary to preserve Church unity, and at walking the tightrope spanning politically antagonistic states.

Like polished diplomats, they have glided over the international stage in what often seemed to be a cloud of deliberate ambiguity. So the Vaticanisti were indispensible. They kept their ears to the ground, analyzed the rumors, and explained to the world "what the pope meant."

Francis is different. The pope "from the end of the world" doesn't do ambiguity. Whether refusing to condemn homosexuals - "who am I to judge?"- or telling married couples they should never let the day end without making up after a fight, "even if you threw a plate."

DW Religionskorrespondent John Berwick

John Berwick, DW religion correspondent

This pope speaks plain language. And he has no truck with rumors. He calls them "weapons of the Devil." You can't get much clearer than that.

So the fact that no Americans were elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals this Saturday should not be interpreted as a slight to the United States. Nor even to the Archbishops of Baltimore, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, who were probably expecting to be named.

The explanation is simple: Francis himself doesn't view the cardinalship as an honor. In fact, this pope doesn't seem to be into fancy hats, silk robes and bling at all. When appointing the new men, he sent each of them a letter, stating baldly: "The cardinalship does not imply promotion; it is neither an honor nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts."

That same message, of course, went out to the Pope's most surprising choices: Archbishop Chibly Langlois of Haiti and Archbishop Philippe Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso. In choosing leaders from two of the most destitute and unstable countries in the world, Francis is not 'honoring' Haiti and Burkina Faso.

He is doing something much more important. He is giving them a little influence over the global Church - an institution that all too often seems obsessed with prestige and self-preservation. Francis is trying to shift that perspective. Unlike the prosperous societies of Europe and North America, the poor have no power or prestige to defend. From them we can learn what it means to have nothing to rely on but God.

The former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer once famously quipped that you can't base foreign policy on the Sermon on the Mount. But Pope Francis appears to be advocating something almost as "preposterous:" a world in which the poor and oppressed are recognized as God's "favorites" - not because they deserve any special love, but because they need it.

The idea is not new, let alone revolutionary. The difference is that Francis really means it. It's not just a pose. He longs, as he says, for a "poor Church, serving the poor."

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