Sunday, February 26, 2017

The beginning of the Bergoglio era

Bergoglio’s red hat marked the start of the Francis eraSixteen years ago this week was one of those threshold moments in the life of the Church, when Buenos Aires Archbishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was made a cardinal by St John Paul II.

It was important, of course, for him, the moment he "launched" into the universal Church after decades of relative obscurity. 

But it was equally important for the regional Church that now, arguably, is the dynamic reference point for the universal Church.

It was the moment when Europe lost its dominant place in the college of cardinals. 

The Europeans were still the largest single block of electors (65), but they were outnumbered for the first time by non-Europeans. 

And of those, the Latin Americans were by far the biggest block - 27 red hats following the February 2001 consistory, while North America, Africa and Asia had 13 each, and Oceania four.

Many of those Latin-American cardinals are now major players in the Francis pontificate, to the point where it's possible to talk of a "class of 2001".

Two of the members of the pope's council of cardinals (the "C9") are from that class: its chair, Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, and Francisco Javier Errázuriz of Santiago de Chile. 

Then there's Claudio Hummes, the emeritus archbishop of São Paolo, Brazil - the one who whispered "don't forget the poor" to Bergoglio on the afternoon of his election as pope - who heads the Brazilian bishops' mission to Amazonia, and remains a Francis confidant.

The other Brazilian of that class of 2001, Gerardo Majella Agnelo of Bahia, was president of Brazil's bishops' conference at the same time that Bergoglio headed the Argentine bishops' conference.

One could go on: Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima, Peru, is today one of the cardinals in Francis's Council for the Economy, although not a natural Francis ally; Julio Terrazas Sandóval, the Bolivian cardinal who died in 2015, and who was close to Francis; and of course Bergoglio's great friend in Rome, the Argentine head of the Vatican library, Jorge María Mejía, who played a crucial role in getting the Jesuit made a bishop in 1992 in the teeth of the opposition at the time of the secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Mejía, who had a heart attack the day Francis was elected, died in Rome in 2014, having lived to see the change of era.