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Pope chooses cardinals from the church's 'peripheries'

Selection of prelates from Malaysia and Bangladesh will assist the Vatican get a better 'Asian perspective' on issues

Pope chooses cardinals from the church's 'peripheries'

Pope Francis celebrates Mass on Oct. 9 at St Peter's Square in the Vatican. Later that same day the pope announced 17 new cardinals. (Photo by AFP) reporter, New Delhi

October 10, 2016

The news that several of the 17 new cardinals announced by Pope Francis on Oct. 9 are from unconventional places such as Malaysia and Bangladesh indicates that the pontiff's focus is clearly on the church's "peripheries," say church leaders in India.

Along with cardinals from those Asian nations, the pope gave the nod to clerics in nations such as Mauritius, Papua New Guinea and Lesotho in southern Africa.

"Pope Francis is making a deliberate choice to go to the peripheries," Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay told

Cardinal Gracias, part of a nine-member team of cardinals that Pope Francis appointed as advisors, said it was "a great joy" for him to hear of the naming of Archbishop Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka and retried Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez of Kuala Lumpur as cardinals.

Traditionally, cardinals are appointed from locations considered Catholic centers and of global importance so to help and advise the pope with church administration issues.

"Obviously, he aims to give much more representation to such areas that are not represented. It will enhance the global character of the church," Cardinal Gracias said.

The two first time cardinal appointments for Bangladesh and Malaysia show "the love and care" of the pope for Asia, and these actions "will help strengthen" the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), he said.

Church leaders like Virginia Saldanha, who has been associated with the FABC, said that more cardinals coming from Asia would help the church at a global level.

"It will surely help the church in these places to get the attention they deserve," said Saldanha.

"Also, it will help get global church leaders get a perspective of Asia on issues," she said.

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, India's first cardinal from a tribal background, said the Vatican is looking to Asia because of the growth in the church in the vast region which currently has 12 percent of world 1.2 billion Catholics.

"Two third of the worlds' people live in Asia. The church cannot ignore that fact," the Cardinal Toppo said stressing the mission of the church is the prime concern of the church in its every action.

Cardinal Toppo said the Catholic population in the region has been steadily increasing over the past several decades.

The prelate said this has occurred despite Catholics being a tiny minority in most parts of Asia. Many of them also struggle to survive.

"We are having difficult times in the region," said Cardinal Toppo alluding to an increase in religious fundamentalism.

"The Bangladesh church has persevered and is making great strides," said Cardinal Toppo who added that the appointment of a cardinal there should be seen in that light.

For Cardinal Gracias, the naming of Archbishop D'Rozario is "recognition of the person and the nation" in the Catholic world for their great work.

With the new appointment of Archbishop D'Rozario as cardinal, the FABC will have 22 cardinals of whom 15 are below 80 years of age making them eligible to vote in a papal election. India and the Philippines combined account for nine cardinals, seven of whom are eligible to vote.

The appointment of Archbishop Fernandez as cardinal should be seen as "an honorary" act for the work he has done to help the Vatican establish diplomatic relations with his Muslim majority nation, both the cardinals said.

The Vatican appointed Archbishop Joseph Salvador Marino as the first nuncio to Malaysia in January 2013, following a decade of efforts by Archbishop Fernandez. Malaysia appointed its first resident ambassador this year.

"It is basically an honorary position," Cardinal Toppo said adding that he does not want to put motives into or interpret the actions of the pope.

"The pope freely appoints the cardinals, and it is his prerogative," said Cardinal Toppo.

Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, president of Indian bishops’ conference said countries getting cardinals for a first time "is a recognition for Asia, these nations and the Catholics in them.”

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