One sign that a consistory is taking place in the Pope Francis era is that in at least a couple of cases, ordinary people typically are forced to hit Google to find out where their home countries even are.
Francis came from “the end of the earth,” as he put it, and sometimes
he appears determined to find his new cardinals in the same far-flung
In 2014, it was Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Ley Cayes in
Haiti; in 2015, Tonga and Cape Verde.
This time around, one of the more exotic settings for a new red hat
is the island nation of Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean about
1,200 miles off the coast of Africa.
Its population is about 1.2
million, and as of next month Mauritius will have its very own cardinal
in the person of Bishop Maurice Piat of the capital city of Port Louis.
A member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, often referred to as
the “Spiritan” fathers, Piat turned 75 in mid-July and was preparing for
retirement, having submitted the mandatory resignation letter to the
Francis, however, obviously has something else in mind for the
veteran prelate, who was ordained a priest in 1970, became the coadjutor
bishop of Port Louis in 1991, and took over in 1993.
Francis famously is a pope with a passion for the peripheries, for
lifting up often overlooked or ignored corners of the world, and
certainly in Mauritius he’s chosen to spotlight an endlessly fascinating
if little-known cultural milieu.
Because Indians were pressed into servitude by the European settlers of the island in the 19th
century, Mauritius has a large Hindu population, estimated at roughly
50 percent of the national total - making Mauritius the lone nation
considered part of Africa with a Hindu majority, and the country with
the third highest percentage of Hindus in the world after Nepal and
Mauritius is also roughly one-third Christian, with 80 percent of
that Christian total being Catholic. As a result, despite its small
size, it’s arguably one of the world’s premier laboratories for
Catholic/Hindu dialogue, still relatively unencumbered there by the
pressures of militant Hindu nationalism presently sweeping India.
Born in 1941 in the Mauritian city of Moka, Piat studied at the local
College of the Holy Spirit, run by the order which he eventually
joined, and then in Ireland and Rome.
When Piat was named to Port Louis in the early 1990s, he chose an
appropriate seafaring motto, “Set out into the deep,” and placed his
episcopacy under the protection of Jacques-Désiré Laval, the great
“Apostle of Mauritius” in the 19th century and the first blessed of the Spiritan order.
From 1996 to 2002, he served as president of the bishops’ conference
of the Indian Ocean, and in 2009 he was designated a “Grand Officer of
the Order of the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean” by the president of
Though by nature modest and fairly reserved, Piat appears to have
taken his own motto to heart, launching himself into efforts at
inter-faith dialogue, maintaining a good rapport with the government and
civil society, and keeping up a demanding schedule of visits to
parishes and schools, as well as meeting with priests, lay leaders,
movements and ecclesiastical commissions.
In that sense, Piat comes off as a prototypical “Francis bishop,” the
kind of prelate driven to get out into the streets and meet people
where they are.
An Oct. 9 write-up of Piat in a local paper in Mauritus said that
when he makes the rounds, “everywhere and always, one feels taken up by
the Gospel, by the determination to meet Christ and to walk with him.”
Although when Piat enters the College of Cardinals on Nov. 19, the
honor will be primarily for his home nation, it’s hard to imagine that
Francis didn’t have one eye on India in making the pick.
The pontiff has
already confirmed that he’s planning to travel to India in 2017, and
he’s well aware that the small Christian community in India feels
increasingly pressured by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
and what’s known as its implicit campaign of “safronization,” meaning
imposing Hindu practices and values.
In that light, Piat could emerge as an important interlocutor for the
pope with the Hindu world, and play a key behind-the-scenes role in
preparations for the trip next year.
In an interview with Vatican Radio after his appointment was
announced, Piat said he was “very touched by the trust [the pope] puts
in me,” adding, in a vintage Francis-esque touch, “which is far from
“I am at his disposal,” Piat said, “for whatever service he will ask of me.”
It’s not clear how much longer Piat may continue in office, having
already turned 75, and of course in less than five years he’ll also lose
his right to vote for the next pope, should a conclave not occur in the
In a sense, however, the longevity of his service isn’t really the
Instead, it’s that Francis once again has converted the Gospel
ideal of “the last shall be first” into a program of governance, this
time by giving another small island nation its day in the sun.