VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis gave the Catholic church five new cardinals Wednesday, somberly instructing them to act as servants and not “princes” in a world where innocents are dying from wars and terrorism, slavery persists and refugee camps often are living hells.
Reflecting Francis’ attention to the poor, three of the five cardinals hail from developing nations and regions: Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun of Laos; Bamako Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Mali; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, who continued working as a parish priest while serving as San Salvador’s auxiliary bishop.
The other two elevated churchmen are Barcelona, Spain, Archbishop Juan Jose Omella, who early in his clerical career worked as a missionary in Zaire; and Stockholm Bishop Anders Arborelius. The Swedish prelate last year welcomed Francis to his country, where Lutherans are the majority Christian group.
Cardinals are often referred to as “princes of the church,” a reflection of their prestigious roles of advising the pope and electing his successor, as well as their often-posh residences.
But Francis in his homily told the five new cardinals that Jesus “didn’t call you to become ‘princes,’ in the Church,” but instead chose them to “serve” God and people.
Some media had speculated that Zerbo, Mali’s first-ever cardinal wouldn’t show up for the ceremony or even be made cardinal after recent European news media reported that Zerbo was one three Mali prelates who had multi-million euro Swiss bank-accounts.
If Francis was upset by the reports, it didn’t show when he placed the prestigious red biretta, the square, three-ridged hat cardinals wear, on Zerbo’s head. As he did with the other four cardinals, Francis gave the African prelate a fraternal embrace and said a few words to him. Zerbo, on his knees, leaned forward, his head bowed.
Francis, an Argentine and the first Jesuit pope, has said he wants the church hierarchy to serve the poor. The pope told his newest cardinals to be focused on the suffering in the world.
“The reality is innocents who suffer and die for wars and terrorism; slaveries that do not cease to deny dignity even in the age of human rights,” he said. .The pope also spoke of “refugee camps that sometimes resemble more a hell than a purgatory,” and decried what he called “the systematic discarding of all that isn’t needed any more, included persons.”
Zerbo has worked for reconciliation in Mali, an impoverished country bloodied by Islamist extremism and where Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority.
But as the cardinal-making ceremony neared, his reputation as a peacemaker was overshadowed by news reports that 12 million euros ($13.5 million) were held in Swiss bank accounts in the names of Zerbo and two other top-ranking Catholic churchman from Mali.
A fellow Mali bishop who has been identified as one of the account-holders and who came to Rome for the cardinals’ ceremony, declined in an interview with a news agency to explain where the money came from or for what it might have been use.
Vatican officials have said it is common for bishops working in unstable countries to deposit church funds in either the Vatican or European banks and made clear Francis would go head and make Zerbo a cardinal.