Catholic bishops from across Asia welcomed the elevation of 21 new cardinals, including six from the region, as a celebration of “diversity.”
“Pope Francis’ decision to appoint new cardinals reflects Church’s unity in diversity, so many cultures, and languages, but diversity is strength,” said Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).
“We celebrate diversity,” said the prelate in a statement, adding that the latest appointments of new cardinals “show the special love for the Holy Father … for suffering Churches like China, Vietnam, Myanmar, and other countries of Asia.”
Father George Plathottam, executive secretary of FABC’s Office of Social Communication, described the choice of Pope Francis of the new members of the College of Cardinals as reflective of the “growth of the Church.”
Father Plathottam cited the choice of Dalit Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad in India as “a good recognition from the Church for the Dalit people.”
Dalits account for about 64 percent of the Catholic population in India and 75 percent of Catholics in the Pondicherry-Cuddalore diocese.
For months, Dalit groups have been appealing to Catholic Church leaders to appoint a Dalit archbishop, even meeting with the apostolic nuncio to India early this year.
Father Plathottam said the pope’s “surprising” move is a “great moral boost” for the Christian community in the region.
“[Pope Francis’] legacy of paying attention to the periphery, especially in India, can be a big help in dealing with a fundamentalist government,” said the Indian priest.
“It is a good time to have an image of the Church known for the service of the poor and value for education to the marginalized,” he added.
Eight of the newly named cardinals are from Europe, six from Asia, two from Africa, one from North America, and four from Central and Latin America.
The College of Cardinals currently consists of 208 cardinals, of whom 117 are electors and 91 non-electors. After the August 27 consistory, the number will grow to 229 Cardinals, of whom 131 will be electors.
Among those elevated by Pope Francis to the College of Cardinals is Archbishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.
In a statement, the prelate said he does not deserve the job.
“The pope made me Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy in June of last year. Then he appointed me again as a cardinal, a job I do not deserve,” he said.
The Korean Church leader, however, said it is his job “to carry out the ‘Proclaim the Gospel’ papal decree … to train priests based on this papal decree, and to do good pastoral work as a priest.”
“We shall do our best to ensure that the lives of the martyrs are made available, particularly to Catholics worldwide,” said the archbishop.
Archbishop Dom Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of East Timor, the first cardinal-elect of the island nation, said he was surprised by his appointment.
“I never dreamed of this and I never looked for it,” he told reporters. “When I heard this news, I was so shocked I almost fainted,” he said.
Catholics in India, meanwhile, welcomed the elevation of two bishops to the College of Cardinals.
Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, who was born in a Dalit Catholic family in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, and Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman are among the new cardinals.
A Dalit cardinal is “certainly a cause of pride and joy for Dalits who have been requesting the Vatican for so long,” said Sister Manju Devarapalli, secretary of the National Dalit Christian Watch.
Archbishop Poola’s elevation comes amid talks about an Indian Dalit Rite in the Catholic Church and protests by Dalit groups calling for bishops from their community.
In Singapore, the Catholic faithful expressed “delight” as they welcomed the appointment of their own Archbishop William Goh.
The prelate becomes the third Church leader, after Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez of Kuala Lumpur and Cardinal Cornelius Sim of Brunei, from the small bishops’ conference of Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei to be named to the Church hierarchy.
Archbishop Goh, 65, becomes the first archbishop-head from Singapore to be named a cardinal by Pope Francis.