Pope Francis appoints potential successors

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Pope Francis greets crowds on Sunday. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
09:01 CEST+02:00
Pope Francis said on Sunday he would appoint 17 new cardinals from across the world next month, 13 of whom are under 80 and therefore eligible to succeed him.

Known as "princes of the church", cardinals who are not yet octogenarians are eligible to vote in the papal conclave that picks the next pope.

"I am happy to announce that on Saturday, November 19th... I will hold a meeting of cardinals to nominate the 13 new cardinals (aged under 80) from the five continents," said Francis.

"The fact they are from 11 countries shows the universality of the church," the Argentine pontiff added.

The other four include former bishops and archbishops over 80, and in a rare move, 87-year-old Albanian Ernest Simoni who has been promoted to cardinal from his current position as a parish priest.

Heading up the list of new cardinals is Mario Zenari who is currently the papal envoy to Syria - a "martyred" country, according to the pope.

Second on the list is Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the archbishop of Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, who is the youngest of the 13 new cardinals aged just 49. He met the pope when Francis visited CAR at the end of 2015, a trip he was instrumental in organizing.

Among the other senior church leaders from developing countries being promoted to cardinal are Patrick D'Rozario, archbishop of Dhaka and Maurice Piat, the bishop of Port-Louis in Mauritius.

'Honour of the red cap'

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Sergio da Rocha, archbishop of Brasilia and the archbishop of Merida in Venezuela, Baltazar Porras Cardozo will also become cardinals, signalling the importance of Latin America to Francis' papacy.

The region has 40 percent of the world's Catholics in contrast with Europe, where the Catholic population is ageing and declining fast.

Three of the 13 who will have conclave voting rights are from Europe, three from Latin America, three from the US and two each from Africa and Asia.

Albanian parish priest Ernest Simoni, 87, was imprisoned by his country's communist regime in 1963 and sentenced to death, although that was later commuted to 25 years' forced labour, according to a Vatican profile. He spent a total of 18 years imprisoned.

In February 2015 Pope Francois created 20 new cardinals, greatly accelerating the internationalization of the church in which European cardinals are no longer in the majority.

The pope's choices echo his desire to emphasize the pastoral side of the Church - choosing for the most part leaders engaged with the problems affecting their local communities rather than administrative heads.

Francis, the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years, is the son of working class immigrants.

He frequently shuns the trappings of papal office choosing simpler and less costly alternatives instead.

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