"Pretty much everything a pope does exercises leadership and shapes culture in the Church, whether or not it comes wrapped in a binding magisterial declaration, and the creation of 17 new Cardinals was a case in point," writes John Allen.
Francis delivered a talk on Sunday morning, which was notable for its plea to avoid in-fighting at a time when public crossfires involving bishops seem increasingly common. In reality, however, the most important statement of the day was made well in advance, in the form of his picks for new Princes of the Church.
Here are three take-aways from Sunday's consistory, which is the third of Francis’s papacy.
Consistory as Global Village
Francis is famously a pope of the peripheries, and nowhere is that drive to lift up previously ignored or marginalised places more clear than in how this pontiff awards red hats.
This time around, there are new Cardinals from Papua New Guinea, the Central African Republic, Bangladesh, and Mauritius. The last two, Bangladesh and Mauritius, have a combined Catholic population that doesn’t quite get to 700,000, making them essentially large parishes by the standards of many other places.
The consistory builds on the previous two held by Pope Francis, in 2014 and 2015, in which he created cardinals from Nicaragua, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Capo Verde, and the Pacific island of Tonga.
While the internationalisation of the College of Cardinals dates back at least to the era of Pope Paul VI in the late 1960s and 1970s, what’s striking under Francis is that his Cardinals don’t just come from the other usual centres of global Catholic power, but literally from all over the map.
All this is calculated, of course, to ensure that the College of Cardinals is better reflective of the entire 1.2-billion strong Church around the world, especially places long accustomed to not really having a voice.
These appointments also make the next conclave, meaning the next time cardinals gather to elect a pope, far more difficult to handicap.
Many of these cardinals represent cultures where the usual taxonomy of left v right simply don’t apply, and they’re not part of the traditional networks of ecclesiastical influence and patronage.