On May 20, Pope Francis announced that he would create 14 new cardinals at a June 29 consistory. The Holy Father explained that the new cardinals, representing 11 nations, “express the universality of the Church, which continues to proclaim the merciful love of God to all people of the earth.” While 11 nations are represented, the United States is noticeably absent from the list. The Sees of Baltimore, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, which had been shepherded by Cardinal Archbishops in the past, will remain without red hats for the foreseeable future.
Some have conjectured that Francis is intentionally remaking the College of Cardinals to reflect his own pastoral priorities and his insistence on promoting the universality of the Church. After the June consistory, nearly half of all cardinals eligible to vote in the next conclave will have been created by Pope Francis. Perhaps the new additions to the College of Cardinals will remind us in the West of a number of things that we tend to overlook.
First, the Church is much larger than Western political categories, and ecclesial realities cannot always be squeezed into our prevailing cultural narratives. Next, the Church in the West is experiencing a significant decline. We have succeeded at maintaining institutional consistency without evangelical zeal. Is the West really worth imitating in that regard?
Lastly, pastoral priorities in places marred by violence, civil unrest or extreme poverty, are certainly different from those in the West and may actually facilitate a deeper encounter with the Gospel than our Western comfortability and self-satisfaction tend to afford. With the observance of Pentecost now behind us, the creation of these 14 new cardinals certainly won’t allow us to deny or ignore the universality of the Church’s mission.