Pope Francis has announced plans to appoint 17 new cardinals, adding to his potential successors. The group of cardinal nominees includes an Albanian former prisoner, moderate Americans and the papal envoy to Syria.
Pope Francis said on Sunday he would appoint a total of 17 new cardinals from around the world. Out of the latest group, 13 are under the age of 80 and are eligible to succeed the Argentine pontiff.
Cardinals, who are known as "princes of the Church," occupy the most senior position in the Roman Catholic hierarchy after the pope. They also serve as his main advisers around the world, as well as in the Vatican.
"The fact that they are from 11 countries shows the universality of the church," said the pope. Five of Francis' nominees are from Europe, four from North America, two from South America, three Africans and a Pacific Ocean islander.
The new cardinals include Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the 49-year-old archbishop of the Central African Republic capital of Bangui, and the Vatican ambassador in Syria, Mario Zenari. However, Francis said Zenari will remain in his post in order to show the Church's concern for "beloved and martyred Syria."
The Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and Lesotho will have a cardinal for the first time.
In a rare move, 87-year-old Albanian Ernest Simoni will be promoted from parish priest to cardinal. Simoni brought Francis to tears recounting his 18 years of imprisonment under Albania's communist regime.
Three American moderates, including Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich and Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin, were nominated.
Tobin tweeted he was "shocked beyond words" by the Pope's announcement.
Tobin had drawn attention in the US for rejecting a request from Indiana Governor Mike Pence - currently Donald Trump's running mate - to stop settling Syrian refugees in the Midwestern state.
The third American nominated for promotion was Kevin Farrell, the outgoing bishop of Dallas.
Possible papal successors
Including Sunday's appointees, Francis will have appointed 44 cardinal electors and 11 nonelectors to the conclave, which votes on the selection of the next pope.
The latest promotions will bring the number of voting-age cardinals to 120, the maximum allowed under current Vatican rules. With the non-voting cardinals included, the college will number 228.
Despite Francis' global picks, the geographic distribution of cardinal electors still heavily favors Europe, which has 54 voting-age cardinals. North, South and Central America come next with 34 cardinals. Africa, meanwhile, has 15, Asia 14 and Oceania four.
Francis will formally appoint the new cardinals in a ceremony known as a consistory on November 19.
rs/rc (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)