RANGOON — Church colleagues have praised the appointment by Pope Francis of Rangoon’s archbishop as Burma’s first Roman Catholic cardinal.
Archbishop Charles Bo was one of 20 new cardinals whose appointments were announced on Sunday. The appointments are from 18 countries, including two others that never before had a cardinal: Cape Verde and Tonga.
Bishop Felix Lian Khen Thang said on Monday the appointment was the crowning achievement of the church’s mission activities in Burma. The bishop from Kalaymyo town is president of the country’s Catholic Bishop Conference.
About 1 percent of predominantly Buddhist Burma’s 51 million people are Catholics. Thailand has about half that number and also had a new cardinal appointed on Sunday.
Francis told faithful in St. Peter’s Square that the new batch of cardinals “shows the inseparable tie with the church of Rome to churches in the world.”
Five new cardinals come from Europe, three from Asia, three from Latin America, including Mexico, and two each come from Africa and Oceania.
With his picks, the Argentine-born Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, made ever clearer that he is laying out a new vision of the church’s identity, including of its hierarchy. He looked beyond traditional metropolitan area for the “princes of the church” who will help advise him as he goes forward with church reforms. Cardinals also elect his successor.
He has said repeatedly that the church must reach out to those on the margins.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the selection “confirms that the pope doesn’t feel tied to the traditional ‘cardinal sees,’ which reflected historic reasons in various countries.”
“Instead we have various nominations of archbishops or bishops of sees in the past that wouldn’t have had a cardinal,” Lombardi said.
Among Pope Francis’ picks are churchmen whose advocacy styles seem to particularly capture matters dear to his heart.
The only native English-language speaker chosen by Francis is Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, New Zealand. Summing up his own intervention at last year’s Vatican conference on controversial family issues, including gay marriage and divorced Catholics, Dew has said the church must change its language to give “hope and encouragement.”
Speaking from a Vatican window to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Francis made another surprise announcement. He said that on Feb. 12-13, he will lead of meeting of all cardinals to “reflect on the orientations and proposals for the reform of the Roman Curia,” the Vatican’s administrative bureaucracy.
Francis is using his papacy, which began in March 2013, to root out corruption, inefficiency, careerism, and other problems in the curia.
An Italian group, Noi Siamo Chiesa, which advocates reforms for the church, hailed the choice of the two Italian bishops. Group spokesman Vittorio Bellavite said Francis had gone “outside the traditional logic” of the hierarchy.
Francis said he will “have the joy” on Feb. 14 of presiding over the ceremony in which the 20 churchmen will receive the red hat cardinals wear.