For the seventh time after becoming head of the Catholic Church in 2013, Pope Francis on Saturday appointed new cardinals — high-ranking officials from around the world who get to decide who the new Pope will be whenever the seat falls empty. The Pope is said to “create” new cardinals at such events, which are called “consistories”.
At Saturday’s consistory, where 13 new cardinals were created, the Pope made history by adding the first African-American prelate, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., as well as the first representatives from Brunei and Rwanda to the Sacred College of Cardinals.
So, who is a cardinal?
Cardinals are the top clerics of the Roman Catholic Church, also called its “Princes”. The word is derived from its Latin root “cardo” (hinge); cardinals are thus considered “the hinges on which the Church revolves”.
They are appointed for life and belong to three orders — the highest being cardinal bishops, then cardinals priests, and finally cardinal deacons. Of the three, cardinal priests are the most numerous. Together, the orders form what is called the Sacred College of Cardinals, which currently has 229 members.
Cardinals receive the symbolic red biretta and ring from the Pope when they are created at consistories, and are addressed as “Eminence”. The prelates are also known for their distinctive red attire – the colour expressing the cardinals’ willingness to die for their faith, and the ring signifies their marriage to the church.
What are their functions?
The job for which cardinals are most popularly known is during the papal conclave, when they elect from among themselves a successor to St Peter. To be able to vote at this all-important gathering of the College, cardinals need to be below the age of 80 at the start of the Papal vacancy. Currently, 128 among the 229 cardinals are capable of voting at the conclave, as per the Vatican Press Office.
The pope’s election, though, is only one among their many responsibilities. Cardinals primarily work as counsellors to the Pope, and many are leaders of the diocese or archdiocese in their home countries. They also take up important positions in the Vatican bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia. As per Canon law, cardinals can be summoned by the Pope for particular needs, and have direct access to him. They are also responsible for the Church’s day-to-day governance whenever the seat of the Pope falls empty.
Who are the cardinals from India?
Of the 229, four cardinals are from India — Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum (Syro-Malankara); Telesphore P. Toppo, Archbishop Of Ranchi; Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop Of Bombay; George Alencherry, Major Archbishop Of Ernakulam-Angamaly (Major Archdiocese – Syro-Malabar).
Of the four, all but Cardinal Toppo are cardinal electors, meaning they would be able to vote for (or become) the next Pope if a conclave were held today. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
The College in numbers
From the 1960s, the College has become increasingly less Eurocentric, and has added members from countries having Catholic populations but which had never been represented in the past. This trend has continued during the papacy of Francis, who has appointed 57 per cent of the 128 current cardinal electors, many of them hailing from far-flung nations.
Since Francis took office in 2013, the share of Europeans among cardinal electors has fallen from 52 per cent to 42 per cent, Pew Research data show. This region can still be considered “overrepresented”, since only 24 per cent of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics live here, as per 2010 figures.
Yet, the Asia-Pacific region, home to 12 per cent of Catholics worldwide and of which India is a part, has seen its representation rise from nine to 15 per cent in the past 7 years. The most underrepresented part of the world is Latin America and the Caribbean, where 39 per cent of all Catholics live, and which has seen its presence only slightly rise from 17 to 19 per cent during the same period.
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