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Beyond hometown cheering

/ 10:55 PM January 17, 2014

“Don’t consider this a promotion or waste money with celebratory parties.” That’s the counsel Pope Francis gave Cotabato’s Archbishop Orlando Quevedo and 18 other prelates who will be elevated as cardinals on Feb. 21.

Francis read the names of the 19 new cardinals last Sunday. There are two each from Asia and Africa, four from Latin America, and one from the Caribbean. Sixteen are under 80 and therefore young enough, in a conclave, to elect a pope, or be elected one. Quevedo is 75, and Manila’s Cardinal Luis Tagle is 56.

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Italians and Americans were bypassed. “That’s a reminder to traditional Western powerhouses, like the US, where they stand in the Catholic footprint early 21st century,” noted John Allen, Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter.

“At-long-last cheers” erupted here for a cardinal from Mindanao. “A welcome development,” said Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Mohagher Iqbal. Historian Datu Michael Mastura cited Quevedo’s efforts for the Bangsamoro peace process and work to redress social injustice. “My prayer is [Quevedo] emulates the sitting Pope’s character, showing great concern for the marginalized,” wrote Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

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This is a long way for a kid who used to peddle 50 copies of the weekly Mindanao Cross to earn lunch money. Ordained as an Oblate priest, Quevedo  worked in Kidapawan, Nueva Segovia, before his assignment in 1998 to Cotabato. In between, he led the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

He defined his concerns in July 2003, when conflict in Mindanao intensified. The root cause of insurgency in the South is injustice, he told the 27th General Assembly of the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference. Injustice to the Moro identity, political sovereignty and integral development … is “at the heart of the contemporary Moro movement for freedom…”

“Francis uses the cardinal’s red hats to offer a lesson to a global church.” There has been a broad north/south shift in the Catholic population, notes the New York Times. Of today’s 1.2 billion Catholics, two out of three live in the southern hemisphere. That will surge to three-quarters by 2050 in a Church that “shifted southwards” over the past century.

Secularization has emptied European pews. In contrast, Asia has 130 million Catholics, up from 126 million, the Vatican’s statistical yearbook reports. Latin America’s Catholics will rise to 600 million within two decades. There will be 220 million African Catholics by 2025.

“Is the Vatican now in the wrong location?” asked Philip Jenkins in the New Republic. “It’s 2,000 miles too far north of its emerging homelands.”

This disconnect became more glaring during the 2012 consistory. More than half of those in attendance were European. Latin America, which has 400 million Catholics and counting, had just 15 voting-age cardinals, while Europe, where church attendance has slumped, mustered 57 cardinals.

Pope Benedict XVI responded, in his final group of appointments, by choosing cardinals outside Europe—which Francis has expanded far beyond expectations.

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The two largest Catholic countries, population-wise, are Brazil and the Philippines. Mexico is third. They’ve long griped about being underrepresented in the College of Cardinals. The United States has a fraction below 70 million Catholics, and like Italy, it is overrepresented. “Both in 2005 and 2013, cardinals from the US cast more ballots to elect the next pope than Brazil and the Philippines combined.”

Leadership in the US Church focused on gay marriage and abortion, the Wall Street Journal noted. Those “in developing countries are more consumed with issues of economic disparity—a theme this Pope strongly embraced.”

There are currently 107 voting members of the College of Cardinals. Another three will turn 80 by the end of May. Some expect Francis  to choose a larger number of new cardinals—maybe two dozen—to buttress support for his reforms. But he can name another eight by the end of 2014 to replace those turning 80, and almost another several dozen by 2016.

Francis kept the ceiling of having no more than 120 voting cardinals at any time. “This maverick pope has shown himself to be a man of tradition at least on this score,” Allen writes. The choice of cardinals from impoverished Burkina Faso and Haiti is a vintage touch from the Pope who has said that he dreams of “a poor Church for the poor.”

Francis’ choices mark a departure from Benedict’s tendency to appoint cardinals from Western countries, and resume a decades-long push by earlier popes to tilt the College of Cardinals away from the rich world.

Appointing cardinals is a chance to shape the direction and future of the universal Church. That includes overhauling the less-than-saintly Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the Vatican. Francis has launched a broad debate on the theme of family that will touch on delicate issues like homosexuality and divorce.

The reform trend seems likely to deepen further, writes Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, “The disproportionate representation of wealthy nations in the College of Cardinals is something that Francis is trying to rectify here, in keeping with his general concern for the poor.”

We often forget these sweeping changes were sparked by a man who has only been nine months as leader of an institution that has endured sword and theft for over 2,000 years. Abangan, as Filipinos like to say.

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E-mail: [email protected]

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TAGS: Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, Juan L. Mercado, opinion, Pope Francis, Vatican, Viewpoint
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