Pope Francis puts the periphery at the heart of the Church
After having chosen the name François in reference to “the friend of the poor”, Saint Francis of Assisi, the 266e Pope set the tone that was to characterize his pontificate by ironically, on March 13, 2013, from the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica, on his origins ” from the back of the World “. Born in 1936, in Buenos Aires, of Piedmontese immigrant parents, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became head of the Catholic Church, has devoted himself for ten years to the geographical, social and ecclesial margins.
The first non-European pope for more than a millennium, but also the first Latin American pope in history, Francis embodies this spirit of openness to the world. Rather than in the “big” countries of Western Europe, the familiar destination of his predecessors, he multiplied his trips to continents and to populations far from Rome, willingly visiting local religiously minority churches. He traveled three times to sub-Saharan Africa, where he visited seven countries. He is the first pontiff to have traveled to Burma (2017), to the Arabian Peninsula (United Arab Emirates, in 2019; Bahrain, in 2022) or to Iraq, in 2021, which the Christian minority had left en masse during the war. During this trip, made in March 2021, he sought to renew interreligious dialogue with the Shiite and Sunni communities of this country. A project that he had exposed, on February 4, 2019, in a “Document on Human Fraternity”, co-signed by Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Al-Tayeb, Imam of Al-Azhar Grand Mosque in Cairo. In Europe, he chooses destinations with the smallest Catholic communities, such as Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, the Baltic States, Bulgaria, Romania…
Less traditional profiles
Another sign of this geopolitical rebalancing, Francis has significantly changed the composition of the College of Cardinals, integrating new cardinals from Africa, Asia, Oceania or Latin America. In this assembly, whose mission is to assist and advise the pope, prelates under the age of 80 are also “electors”, who are responsible for choosing a new sovereign pontiff in the event of a vacancy in the see. Jorge Mario Bergoglio had thus been elected by a predominantly European conclave – 61 cardinals (including 28 Italians) out of a total of 115. Today, 64% of the 123 elector cardinals were appointed by him, and Europeans now constitute less than half.
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