On Saturday, the Vatican announced Pope Francis’s picks for the four cardinals who’ll preside over an October meeting of bishops focused on youth. All four come from what the pontiff has described the “peripheries” of the world: Myanmar, Iraq, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea.
Though a “president delegate” post doesn’t necessarily mean much in terms of the ability to shape discussion or ram through decisions, the choices are nevertheless telling as to where Francis wants the conversation in October to go.
The four prelates tapped to lead the synod are all cardinals Francis himself has created in recent years:
- Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of Iraq
- Desire Tsarahazana of Madagascar
- Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar
- John Ribat from Papua New Guinea
A president delegate takes turns presiding over a synod meeting in the name of the pope. Usually, all that means in practice is calling on speakers in the order indicated by the synod office, so it’s generally not a terribly memorable role. On the other hand, a president delegate does have access to the microphone, and nothing prevents them from offering their captive audience the occasional fervorino.
In terms of symbolism, the most striking element of the four choices is that each represents one of what Francis considers the core challenges facing humanity today, and thus they embody this pope’s agenda for the world’s youth.
A martyred Church
Under the unwatchful eyes of an oblivious West, Iraq’s Sako is fighting against all odds to keep Christianity alive where the faith was born.
Over a million Christians have fled the country since 2003, escaping violence, war and persecution, with high-end estimates putting the number today at 300,000.
“We Christians, we are persecuted, this is part of our faith,” Sako told reporters on the eve of being created a cardinal, in late June. Despite the challenges he faces, he’s convinced that “the future will be much better than now.”
A missionary Church
“How I long for a poor Church for the poor!” are perhaps the most quoted words of Francis’s first week in office, offering a theme that continues to be front-and-center.
Soon after, he explained the meaning of his words to a gathering of “new movements”: “A poor Church for the poor begins by going to the flesh of Christ,” Francis said. “If we go to the flesh of Christ, we begin to understand something, to understand what this poverty is, the poverty of the Lord.”
Arguably, in few countries is this more of a necessity than in Madagascar, where Tsarahazana faces the daily challenge of leading a missionary Church in a nation that often ranks in the top 10 of poorest in the world, with a GDP per capita of $1,504, and where 90 percent of the population of two million lives below the $2 a day poverty line.
A Church for migrants
In Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority country Pope Francis visited last year, Bo heads a Church that is at the forefront in aiding the victims of the fastest growing humanitarian crisis in the world: the Rohingya Muslims.
Some 700,000 Rohingya have been forcibly displaced in recent years into neighboring Bangladesh, and Catholic aid agencies such as Caritas, Jesuit Refugee Service and Catholic Relief Service, the overseas development arm of the U.S. bishops have stepped up to help.
The Rohingya fall prey to every tragedy associated with migration today, from families decimated as they run towards perceived safety through a dangerous route to being trapped by human trafficking networks that employ the Rohingya in slave-like conditions, many in the fishing industry in other Asian nations.
A church of care for creation
In Papua New Guinea, a country of immense cultural and biological diversity, known for its beaches and coral reefs, Ribat leads the Church in an island in the Pacific that has began to experience the devastating effects of climate change.
Ribat has emerged as a leading religious voice in the South Pacific in favor of strong limits on carbon emissions. In a Vatican press conference in October 2015, ahead of the Paris summit that took place in December of that year, he was visibly emotional.
“In Oceania, our survival and existence are at stake,” he said. “What we are asking for is a fair, legally binding and truly transformational agreement by all the nations on earth.”
“This is my urgent call,” Ribat said to those who would negotiate in Paris: “Guarantee the future of Oceania. Change society to a low-carbon lifestyle.”
Full story at Angelus News.