Pope Francis has named Nigerian Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke cardinal, along with 20 others mostly from outside Europe.
Okpaleke, the fiercely rejected Bishop of Ahiara in Imo, is currently Bishop of Ekwulobia in Anambra State.
Cardinals have dominated the Catholic hierarchy for most of the church’s history and they are the group of people who may one day elect the next pontiff.
Sixteen of those who will receive the prestigious red cardinal’s hat from Francis at a Vatican consistory ceremony on Aug. 27 are under 80.
Okpaleke was 59 on March 1.
He and others would be eligible to vote for Pope Francis’ successor if a conclave – in which pontiffs are secretly elected – were to be held.
Francis read the names of his picks after delivering the traditional Sunday speeches from an open window of the Apostolic Palace to the public in St. Peter’s Square.
Among those who will be asked by the pontiff to receive the prestigious red hat, there will be two prelates from India and one from Mongolia, Ghana, Nigeria, Singapore, East Timor, Paraguay and Brazil, in accordance with the Francis’ determination to ensure that church leaders reflect the global face of the Catholic Church.
The new cardinals:
Jean-Marc Aveline, Archbishop of Marseilles, France; Peter Okpaleke, Bishop of Ekwulobia, Nigeria; Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, Archbishop of Manaus, Brazil; Filipe Neri Antonio Sebastao di Rosario Ferrao, Archbishop of Goa and Damao, India;
Robert Walter McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, California; Virgilio Do Carmo Da Silva, Archbishop of Dili, East Timor; Oscar Cantoni, Bishop of Como, Italy; Anthony Poole. Archbishop of Hyderabad, India;
Paulo Cezar Costa, Archbishop of Brasilia, Brazil; Richard Kuuia Baawobr, Bishop of Wa, Ghana; William Goh Seng Chye, Archbishop of Singapore; Adalberto Martinez Flores, Archbishop of Asuncion, Paraquay; and Giorgio Marengo, Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
In addition to these clerics, also under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave, three prelates work in the Vatican: Arthur Roche of Great Britain, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments;
Lazzaro You Heung-sik of South Korea, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy; and Fernando Vergez Alzaga of Spain, President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State and President of the Governorate of Vatican City State.
Pope Francis, in his choices, has maintained the tradition of appointing those who are too old to vote in a conclave but whose long decades of devotion to the Catholic Church are honored by conferring the rank of cardinal.
In this latest batch of nominations are Jorge Enrique Jimenez Carvajal, Archbishop Emeritus of Cartagena, Colombia; Lucas Van Looy, Archbishop Emeritus of Ghent, Belgium.
Others are Arrigo Miglio, Archbishop Emeritus of Cagliari, Sardinia; Reverend Gianfranco Ghirlanda, Jesuit professor of theology; and Fortunato Frezza, Canon of St. Peter’s Basilica.
With church growth largely stagnant or slow at best in much of Europe and North America, the Vatican has been mindful of its flock in developing countries, including Africa, where the number of devotees has increased in recent decades.
This is the eighth group of cardinals appointed by Francis since he became pontiff in 2013.
A significant majority of those eligible to vote in a conclave have been nominated by him, increasing the likelihood that they will choose as their successor someone who shares the priorities of his papacy, including caring for those who live on the margins of society and to environmental crises.
A total of 131 cardinals would be young enough to elect a pope once the new group is included, while the number of cardinals too old to vote will rise to 96.
Pontiffs have traditionally chosen their closest advisers and collaborators in the Vatican from among the ranks of cardinals, who have been dubbed the “princes of the Church”.
About the new Cardinal Okpaleke:
Okpaleke was born on March 1, 1963 in Amesi in Anambra State. After his primary and secondary studies, in 1983 he entered the Bigard Memorial Major Seminary in Ikot-Ekpene and Enugu.
He studied philosophy and theology there from 1983 to 1992.
He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Awka on August 22, 1990.
After his ordination, Okpaleke held a wide variety of pastoral and administrative positions.
He was university chaplain, parish priest, diocesan financial administrator, diocesan chancellor, secretary and member of diocesan councils.
He also studied canon law in Rome at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
He was appointed Bishop of Ahiara in 2012 and consecrated in 2013.
His appointment was met with resistance from local clergy and laity as he is not from the area. Opponents insisted on a Bishop Mbaise.
The Pope then made the decision to install him as Bishop of Ekwulobia, in his home state of Anambra.
Okpaleke has served as Bishop of Ekwulobia since April 29, 2020. He will become a cardinal in a consistory scheduled for August 27.