The choice of Pope Francis of new members of the College of Cardinals is reflective of the “growth of the Church,” especially in Asia.
“It is important to show the growth of the Church and to really show what it means to have a global Christianity,” said Father George Plathottam, executive secretary of the Office of Social Communication of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
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.
Dalit, also known as untouchable, is a name for people belonging to the lowest stratum castes in India.
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 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.
Indian priest Santosh Digal from the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese said the elevation of cardinals is “honorific,” adding that “what they actually do matters most.”
“These appointments will mean nothing if they won’t use it to be more vocal on India’s human rights situation and in upholding people’s rights and dignity,” he said.
Father Digal said the elevation of Archbishop Poola and Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa could mean a “bigger papal presence for India.”
The priest said that as an Indian, he is grateful for the pope “who is known for his exceptional character of thinking of the far-flung areas.”
In an article posted on Church-run Radio Veritas Asia, Father Plathottam said Pope Francis’ latest batch of appointments shows a “growing shift in the axis of Christianity from the West to the global South.”