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RELIGION

Pope to create new cardinals who may choose successor at Vatican City ceremony

Pope Francis will on Saturday create 20 new cardinals picked from the four corners of the world, most of whom could one day end up choosing the pontiff's successor.

Pope Francis waves
Pope Francis waves as he attends an audience with altar servers from France in Paul VI Hall at The Vatican on August 26, 2022. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Francis has raised the possibility of retiring due to his declining health, a path taken by his predecessor Benedict XVI. If he were to do so, a conclave involving all cardinals aged under 80 would be called to pick a successor.

Sixteen of the 20 cardinals created Saturday would be eligible for that conclave based on their ages.

The ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica is the 85-year-old pope’s eighth since being elected in 2013 and includes clergy known for their pastoral work and, in some cases, progressive views.

All parts of the globe are represented, including new cardinals from Brazil and Nigeria, Singapore and East Timor, among others.

After this weekend, Francis will have chosen 83 out of the 132 cardinals currently qualified to elect a new pope. That is, nearly two-thirds of the total and precisely the percentage needed for any proposed name to pass.

In recent months, the pope has been forced to rely on a wheelchair due to knee pain, which he has said is inoperable.

He also suffers from sciatica, a chronic nerve condition that causes pain in his hip.

Future clues

The new cardinals are always scrutinised by Vatican observers for clues as to the future direction of the Church and its 1.3 billion faithful.

Experts caution, however, that cardinals named by one pope do not necessarily choose successors in their likeness.

The Argentine pontiff has this year completed a major shake-up of the Vatican’s powerful governing body, the Roman Curia, which makes winning new converts a priority.

In keeping with his focus on making the Church more inclusive, transparent and responsive to the needs of the poor and marginalised, Francis has chosen two Africans and five Asians, including two cardinals who hail from India.

Vatican expert Bernard Lecomte told AFP the pope’s choices are “representative of the Church today, with a large spot for the southern hemisphere”, where 80 percent of the world’s Catholics live.

Virgilio Do Carmo Da Silva, the archbishop of Dili, will on Saturday become the first cardinal of tiny East Timor, an overwhelmingly Catholic nation in Southeast Asia.

The pope has also felt free to bypass the archbishops of major cities to choose those from less powerful seats, such as Robert McElroy, the 68-year-old bishop of San Diego, California.

McElroy has supported gay Catholics and criticised moves to deny Communion to US politicians — like President Joe Biden — who support abortion.

The pope will also create the youngest cardinal in the world, 48-year-old Italian missionary Giorgio Marengo, who works in Mongolia.

The new crop of cardinals also includes Nigeria’s Peter Okpaleke, the bishop of Ekwulobia, and Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, archbishop of Manaus, Brazil.

The 80-year-old bishop emeritus of Ghent, Lucas Van Looy, had been nominated but asked to be exempted following criticism of his handling of child sexual abuse by priests in Belgium.

Saturday’s ceremony at the Vatican will be followed by the traditional “courtesy visit,” in which the general public is invited to greet the new cardinals.

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UKRAINE

Thousands join Pope for Rome Good Friday service with Ukraine in mind

Thousands of faithful attended the "Way of the Cross" prayer service, presided over by Pope Francis at Rome's Colosseum on Friday, a ceremony overtaken by the war in Ukraine.

Thousands join Pope for Rome Good Friday service with Ukraine in mind

It was the first time the traditional event on Good Friday, which marks the day Jesus Christ died on the cross in the Christian calendar, was held at the Roman monument since 2019, due to the Covid pandemic.

It also comes two days before Easter, Christianity’s most important holiday.

The pope, who has repeatedly condemned the conflict in Ukraine, and has called for an Easter ceasefire, prayed that the “adversaries shake hands” and “taste mutual forgiveness”.

“Disarm the raised hand of brother against brother,” he said.

“I have lived in Rome for more than 30 years but today it seemed very important to come,” Stefania Cutolo, a 52-year-old Italian teacher, told AFP as a choir rehearsed for the evening event.

“The message tonight, after two years of closure due to the pandemic, is doubly important. In this context where nationalism is returning to Europe, we must act,” she added.

Shortly after 9pm (1900 GMT), in front of 10,000 faithful, the Pontiff opened this highlight of Holy Week.

Organised since 1964 in the sumptuously illuminated Roman amphitheatre, the Way of the Cross event was held in Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican for the last two years, with very low attendances amid the health crisis.

“We meet the whole world here, we hear all languages. It’s marvellous,” enthused Marie-Agnes Bethouart, 71, who arrived at Friday’s event with her husband and two grandsons.

Among the crowd, a yellow and blue flag stood out among the candles. They are the colours of Ukraine.

A Ukrainian and a Russian women hold the cross together at the Stations of the Cross service in Rome

Ukrainian nurse Irina (L), who works at the Palliative Care Centre “Together for the cure” of the Opus Dei University Polyclinic Foundation, and Russian nurse Albina (R), a third-year student in the nursing course at the University Campus Bio-Medico in Rome, hold the cross on Good Friday, April 15, 2022 in Rome. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Among the families who were entrusted with carrying the crucifix at each of the 14 stations of the cross were two women, one Russian and one Ukrainian, who are life-long friends.

The women carried the cross during one portion of the Way of the Cross, the traditional procession that commemorates the 14 stations of Jesus’ suffering and death, from his condemnation to his burial.

‘Inappropriate’
But the Vatican’s initiative, intended as a gesture of reconciliation in the face of the war that began February 24, was not well received by Ukrainian officials.

On Tuesday, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Bishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, denounced an “inappropriate, premature and ambiguous idea, which does not take into account the context of Russia’s military
aggression”.

For his part, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See said he “shared the general concern”.

In a sign of the sensitivity of the issue, the Ukrainian media boycotted the broadcast of the ceremony, while the Vatican had added commentary in Ukrainian and Russian for the broadcast.

In the crowd at the event, Anastasia Goncharova, an 18-year-old tourist from Kyiv, said “I don’t think it’s a really good idea because we are no longer brother nations. They are killing our children, they are raping our
children, stealing our house. It’s disgusting”

In the end the two Russian and Ukrainian friends did carry the crucifix together.

A contemplative silence replaced an original text for the occasion, which was intended to deal more specifically with the war in Ukraine.

Most of those attending welcomed the Vatican’s Russia-Ukraine initiative.

“It is the cross, and therefore the pain of these two peoples, but also hope, because we believe that after the war there will be peace. It is very beautiful,” said Bethouart.

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