By Luminous Jannamike
Abuja — Pope Francis said, yesterday, he will create 21 new Catholic cardinals in August 16 of whom are under 80 years old and eligible to vote for his successor.
The Pope, who made the surprise announcement at the end of his appearance at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City, said the cardinals would assume the position on August 27.
The appointments came as the Argentine pontiff gradually shapes a less European college of cardinals.
The newcomers include a Nigerian Bishop, Most Revd. Peter Okpaleke, who was appointed to Ahiara Diocese of Imo State by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
However, a group of the Diocese’s priests and laity rejected him because he came from a different ethnic group, which led to a seven-year standoff that prevented him from being installed.
Okpaleke was eventually installed April 29, 2019, as the bishop of the new Ekwulobia diocese in Anambra State after renouncing his appointment to Ahiara in 2018, in an effort to resolve the situation.
The 20 other new “princes” of the church, who will be elevated at a special ceremony known as a consistory, come from countries including France, Brazil, India, Philippines, Mongolia, Paraguay, Timor Oriental and Italy.
Those under age 80 will be able to take part in the next secret conclave to elect the head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, who is chosen from among the cardinals.
Aside from having that key role, cardinals often also hold the highest administrative offices in the church.
Among those named was Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego USA, who is long seen as one of his key allies in the United States.
According to sources at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria in Abuja, Bishop Okpaleke’s nomination by the Pope “demonstrates the Holy Father’s culture of focusing on the peripheries when making appointment to the college of cardinals so that the highest level of leadership in the Catholic Church would reflect its global reach.”