ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 54

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Jerusalem Latin Patriarch among 21 new cardinals anointed by Pope

New appointees expected to help Francis reform church and cement his legacy; Latin Patriarch Pizzaballa says nomination will ‘raise the voice of Jerusalem’

Italian Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa (R) is elevated cardinal by Pope Francis during a consistory to create 21 new cardinals at St. Peter's square in The Vatican on September 30, 2023. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP)
Italian Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa (R) is elevated cardinal by Pope Francis during a consistory to create 21 new cardinals at St. Peter's square in The Vatican on September 30, 2023. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis presided over a ceremony Saturday to create 21 new cardinals, including key figures at the Vatican and in the field who will help enact his reforms and cement his legacy as he enters a crucial new phase in running the Catholic Church.

On a crisp sunny day filled with cheers from St. Peter’s Square, Francis further expanded his influence on the College of Cardinals who will one day elect his successor: Nearly three-quarters of the voting-age “princes of the church” owe their red hats to the Argentine Jesuit.

In his instructions to the new cardinals at the start of the service, Francis said their variety and geographic diversity would serve the church like musicians in an orchestra, where sometimes they play solos, sometimes as an ensemble.

“Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design,” Francis said. “This is why mutual listening is essential: each musician must listen to the others.”

Among the new cardinals are the controversial new head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, Victor Manuel Fernandez, and the Chicago-born missionary now responsible for vetting bishop candidates around the globe, Robert Prevost.

Also receiving red hats were the Vatican’s ambassadors to the United States and Italy, two important diplomatic posts where the Holy See has a keen interest in reforming the church hierarchy. Leaders of the church in geopolitical hotspots like Hong Kong and Jerusalem, fragile communities like Juba, South Sudan, and sentimental favorites like Cordoba, Argentina, filled out the roster.

Ahead of naming Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, 58, last month, Francis expressed hope that Israeli and Palestinian authorities would take up “direct dialogue” to end the “spiral of violence” — a reference to recent deadly clashes.

Cardinal-elect, Patriarch of Jerusalem, Israel, Pierbattista Pizzaballa poses for photos during a press point at The Vatican, Thursday, September 28, 2023, ahead of his elevation in St. Peter’s Square at The Vatican on Saturday. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

Last week, Pizzaballa said he hoped to raise the status of Jerusalem after becoming a cardinal.

“I was surprised by the appointment by Pope Francis, but even more surprising was the enthusiastic response of the entire community,” he said in an interview with Vatican News.

Pizzaballa said his creation as Cardinal has raised the “voice of Jerusalem” within the Church and on the international stage.

“Jerusalem is the heart of the life of the world,” he said. “So, from this heart, we should receive life from all over the world. But also this heart, Jerusalem, wants to bring the perspective and desire of life from Jerusalem to all over the world.”

In an interview in April with The Associated Press, Pizzaballa, an Italian prelate who is the top Catholic churchman in the Holy Land, said that the region’s 2,000-year-old Christian community has come under increasing attack, with the most right-wing government in Israel’s history emboldening extremists who have harassed clergy and vandalized religious property at a quickening pace.

The ceremony in St. Peter’s Square took place days before Francis opens a big meeting of bishops and lay Catholics on charting the church’s future, where hot-button issues such as women’s roles in the church, LGBTQ+ Catholics and priestly celibacy are up for discussion.

The October 4-29 synod is the first of two sessions – the second one comes next year — that in many ways could cement Francis’ legacy as he seeks to make the church a place where all are welcomed, where pastors listen to their flocks and accompany them rather than judge them.

Several of the new cardinals are voting members of the synod and have made clear they share Francis’ vision of a church that is more about the people in the pews than the hierarchy. Among them is Fernandez, known as the “pope’s theologian” and perhaps Francis’ most consequential Vatican appointment in his 10-year pontificate.

Pope Francis holds a consistory in St. Peter’s Square at The Vatican where he will create 21 new cardinals, Saturday, September 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

In his letter naming Fernandez as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Francis made clear he wanted his fellow Argentine to oversee a radical break from the past, saying the former Holy Office often resorted to “immoral methods” to enforce its will.

Rather than condemn and judge, Francis said he wanted a doctrine office that guards the faith and gives hope. He also made clear Fernandez wouldn’t have to deal with sex abuse cases, saying the office’s discipline section could handle that dossier.

It was a much-debated decision given Fernandez himself has admitted he made mistakes handling a case while he was bishop in La Plata, Argentina, and that the scale of the problem globally has long cried out for authoritative leadership.

With Saturday’s ceremony, Francis will have named 99 of the 137 cardinals who are under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote in a future conclave to elect his successor. While not all are cookie-cutter proteges of the 86-year-old reigning pontiff, many share Francis’ pastoral emphasis as opposed to the doctrinaire-minded cardinals often selected by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Cardinals greet each other as they wait for a consistory to start in St. Peter’s Square at The Vatican where Pope Francis will create 21 new cardinals, Saturday, September 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Such a huge proportion of Francis-nominated cardinals almost ensures that a future pope will either be from among his cardinal candidates or will have secured their votes to lead the church after Francis is gone.

Europe still has the most voting-age cardinals with 52, followed by the Americas with 39 and Asia with 24.

The ceremony officially installing them followed a ritual in which each man takes an oath to obey the pope, remain faithful to Christ and serve the church. Francis reminded them that they were wearing red as a sign that they must be strong “even to the shedding of blood” to spread the faith.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report

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