Popes bestow red hats, the symbol of the cardinal’s office, for a variety of reasons. In some cases it’s to signal the importance of a particular office, or to reward loyal performance over a lifetime, or to confirm the importance of a particular diocese.
For his first crop of new cardinals, Pope Francis also seems to be using red hats to teach. In effect, the first pontiff from the developing world is offering a lesson in the realities of life in a global church.
The obvious take-away from the 19 new cardinals announced by Francis on Jan. 12 is that ten come from outside Europe, with only four Vatican officials (three Italians and one German), just two other new residential European cardinals, and only one from North America.
There will be no new cardinals from the United States in Francis’ first consistory, the event in which new cardinals are created.(The two obvious places where new cardinals might have been named in the U.S., Los Angeles and Philadelphia, both still have retired cardinals under the age of 80, and popes traditionally have been reluctant to name two cardinal-electors in the same diocese.)
By way of contrast, there are four Latin Americans among the cardinal-electors, one from the Caribbean (Haiti), two Africans, and two Asians.
Notably, there are two new cardinals for the two of the three largest Catholic countries on earth by population, with Orani João Tempesta, O.Cist., Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I., Archbishop of Cotabato in the Philippines.
Catholics in both nations had long complained they were under-represented in the College of Cardinals relative to their Catholic populations. (The other nation in the top three in terms of Catholic population is Mexico.)
The new geographic spread among the cardinals is a reflection of the broad north/south shift in the Catholic population that’s been underway for decades, and that was symbolized in March by the election of a pope from “the ends of the earth” as Francis put it in introducing himself on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
Of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today, fully two-thirds live in the southern hemisphere, a share that’s expected to reach three-quarters by mid-century.
With just under 70 million Catholics, the United States accounts for around six percent …
by John L. Allen Jr. | Jan. 12, 2014