The men who will decide the future of the Catholic Church
On the last Sunday of May, Pope Francis announced the creation of 21 new cardinals, of whom only 16 could participate in a Conclave. And it is that those who are over 80 years old can no longer elect or be elected as Bishop of Rome.
With these appointments, which will become effective at the end of August, the College of Cardinals will be made up of 132 people with voting capacity. They are the ones who will decide the future of the Church by defining the characteristics of whoever replaces Pope Francis.
The appointments consolidate a change that better reflects the universality of the Church. In the last Conclave, in which Pope Francis was elected, more than half of the voters were Europeans (60 out of 115). If there were a conclave from August, Europe would no longer be predominant. The Old Continent has lost seven cardinals since then, while the total number has risen from 115 in 2013 to 132 in August.
Asia and Africa, the continents with the most vitality and where the Catholic Church is growing the most, have multiplied their representation. Asia and Oceania had 11 cardinals in 2013, while today they would have 24, more than double. In the case of Africa, it has gone from 11 to 17 voters.
Why does this change occur? Basically because the profile of the Catholic faithful has also changed. Today almost half of the Catholics in the world are in the American continent. For this reason, the number of cardinals from North and South America has increased from 33 to 38 in the last nine years.
But above all, where the Church grows the most is in Asia, at a rate of 1.8% in the last year, and in Africa, at a rate of 2.1%. In many countries of these two continents, Catholics suffer persecution or are a minority. And it is precisely this fact, and the exemplary resistance of many faithful, that makes faith grow in countries like China or Vietnam, where religious freedom is limited.
The nine years of Pope Francis at the head of the Holy See have changed the profile of those who will elect the new leader of the Church. As of August 27 there will be only 11 cardinal electors appointed by John Paul II; another 38 were appointed by Benedict XVI, while 83 have been created by Francis.
After the ceremony for the creation of new cardinals, all the cardinals of the world will meet in Rome on August 29 and 30. They will talk about the new Vatican Constitution, but above all it will be an opportunity to get to know each other better. Among those 133 cardinals is, with almost total certainty, who will be the next Pope.