06/05/2022, 13.49
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The new geography of Asia's cardinals

For the first time Asia will have more cardinal electors than Africa, some relatively young. In total, 15 Asian countries are represented compared to seven in the conclave that elected Pope Francis. In addition to first timers, some countries like Vietnam will lose their cardinal electors.

Milan (AsiaNews) – The Consistory for the creation of new cardinals announced on Sunday, 29 May, confirms Pope Francis’ great interest in Asia, as six of the 16 new cardinal electors come from this continent.

On 27 August, the number of cardinals born or carrying out their ministry in Asia will rise to 21 among the 132 who could be called to take part in a conclave for the election of a pontiff.

This is an impressive number when compared to the 10 Asians who took part in the 2013 conclave, the one that chose Pope Francis. Even more significant is the number of Asian countries represented: in 2013 there were only seven, now there are 15.

As the table above shows, considering the eight consistories for the creation of new cardinals called during Pope Francis’s pontificate, Asia has had the most remarkable progression. It is also worth noting that Asia has overtaken Africa with 21 electors against 17 in the College of Cardinals.

At first glance, this might seem surprising if we take into account percentages and other data on the number of Catholics on each continent. Yet we can probably better understand why if we consider the emphasis Francis has put on evangelisation in his reform of the Roman Curia.

The continent where the first proclamation of the Gospel is the daily experience for the largest number today is also the one that that has the most cardinals in relation to faithful. The “internal distribution” of cardinals in Asia also deserves some attention.

After the consistory on 27 August, India will remain the most represented country in Asia with five cardinals (three Latin rite, one Syro-Malabar and one Syro-Malankara); like the Philippines, South Korea will have two; while 12 other countries will have one cardinal among the electors: Bangladesh, Japan, Indonesia, Iraq, Laos, Myanmar, Mongolia, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and East Timor.

In the Middle East, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako is currently the only ordinary of the region among cardinal electors: the apostolic nuncio in Damascus, Mario Zenari, is counted among the Italians even though he is closely linked to his pastoral ministry in Syria. In a future conclave, Lebanon will not be represented since Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi is now 82 years old.

Like other continents, Asia has not only gained some new entries in the College of Cardinals, but has also lost some sees and countries. For some years, Vietnam has not had a member among cardinal electors since both Archbishop Emeritus Gioan Baotixita (Jean-Baptiste) Phạm Minh Mẫn of Ho Chi Minh (created cardinal by John Paul II in 2003) and Archbishop Phêrô (Pierre) Nguyên Văn Nhon of Hanoi (created by Francis in 2015) are well past 80.

The same is the case for Hong Kong where the new bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan, who was appointed only last year after a long wait, is not among the new cardinals. Instead, Pope Francis turned to Singapore this time, picking Archbishop William Goh for the college, to represent the Sinic world.

Among Asia’s great metropolises, Tokyo is also out. Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi is a highly esteemed figure throughout the continent, but Japan already has another cardinal elector, Archbishop Thomas Aquino Manyo Maeda of Osaka, created by Francis in 2018. For Seoul, on the other hand, the new Archbishop Peter Chung is not yet cardinal because his predecessor, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, has not yet turned 80.

Last but not least, a final note concerns the age of Asia’s cardinal electors. Many of them are relatively young; for instance, the Apostolic Vicar of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Mgr Giorgio Marengo, born in 1974, will enter the College of Cardinals at the age of 48. Another very young cardinal is Archbishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili (Timor Leste) who was born in 1967.

Altogether, after the consistory of August 27, Asia will count as many as 10 cardinal electors born after 1950 and therefore potential electors of a new pontiff for several years to come.

Conversely, only two Asian cardinals will end their mandate as electors in 2023, having reached the threshold of 80 years, namely Card Patrick D'Rozario of Bangladesh (on 1 October) and Card Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of South Korea (on 5 December).

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”