Pope gives prestigious red hats to 5 new cardinals

Pope Francis arrives in St.Peter's Basilica to celebrate a mass on the occasion of a Consistory where he will elevate five new Cardinals, at the Vatican Wednesday, June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis gave the Catholic church five new cardinals Wednesday, somberly instructing them to act as servants and not “princes” in a world where innocents are dying from wars and terrorism, slavery persists and refugee camps often are living hells.

Reflecting Francis’ attention to the poor, three of the five cardinals hail from developing nations and regions: Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun of Laos; Bamako Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Mali; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, who continued working as a parish priest while serving as San Salvador’s auxiliary bishop.

The other two elevated churchmen are Barcelona, Spain, Archbishop Juan Jose Omella, who early in his clerical career worked as a missionary in Zaire; and Stockholm Bishop Anders Arborelius. The Swedish prelate last year welcomed Francis to his country, where Lutherans are the majority Christian group.

Cardinals are often referred to as “princes of the church,” a reflection of their prestigious roles of advising the pope and electing his successor, as well as their often-posh residences.

But Francis in his homily told the five new cardinals that Jesus “has not called you to become ‘princes’ in the Church,” but instead chose them to serve God and people.

Some media had speculated that Zerbo, Mali’s first-ever cardinal, wouldn’t show up for the ceremony or even be made cardinal after European news media recently reported that he was one three Mali prelates who had multi-million euro Swiss bank-accounts.

If Francis was upset by the reports, it didn’t show when he placed the prestigious red biretta, the square, three-ridged hat cardinals wear, on Zerbo’s head.

As he did with the other four cardinals, Francis gave the African prelate a fraternal embrace and said a few words to him. Zerbo, on his knees, leaned forward, his head bowed.

“It was a very emotional moment for me,” Zerbo told The Associated Press at a post-ceremony Vatican reception for the new cardinals.

Francis, an Argentine and the first Jesuit pope, told his newest cardinals to be focused on the suffering in the world.

“The reality is the innocent who suffer and die as victims of wars and terrorism; the forms of enslavement that continue to violate human dignity even in the age of human rights,” he said.

The pope also spoke of refugee camps “which at times seem more like a hell than a purgatory,” and decried what he called “the systematic discarding of all that is no longer useful, people included.”

Chavez, who heads the Latin American division of Caritas, a Catholic charity, had worked closely with Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who while celebrating Mass was shot to death in 1980 by a right-wing death squad during El Salvador’s civil war.

Francis patted Chavez on the shoulder after he gave him the red hat.

Zerbo has worked for reconciliation in Mali, an impoverished country bloodied by Islamist extremism and where Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority.

“There is such violence in the world, what we need is brotherhood,” Zerbo said as well-wishers waited to greet him after the ceremony.

But as the cardinal-making ceremony neared, his reputation as a peacemaker was overshadowed by news reports that 12 million euros ($13.5 million) were held in Swiss bank accounts in the names of Zerbo and two other top-ranking Catholic churchman from Mali.

A fellow Mali bishop, who has been identified as one of the account-holders and who came to Rome for the cardinals’ ceremony, declined in an interview with AP to explain where the money came from or for what it might have been used.

Vatican officials have said it is common for bishops working in unstable countries to deposit church funds in either the Vatican or European banks and made clear Francis would go head and make Zerbo a cardinal.

Francis accompanied his five new cardinals to the monastery on Vatican grounds where his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who retired in 2013, lives. “We were happy to meet” with Benedict, said the new cardinal from Laos.

Before they all left the basilica, the five cardinals joined Francis for a photo op with Michelangelo’s masterpiece sculpture “Pieta” as the backdrop.

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AP writer Daniela Petroff contributed to this report.

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Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/fdemilio