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Ouagadougou 1, Venice nil – the Pope begins to rebalance the College of Cardinals

The faithful of Burkina Faso will be celebrating

By on Monday, 13 January 2014

Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, Haiti, one of two Caribbeans to be given a red hat next month (Photo: CNS)

Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, Haiti, one of two Caribbeans to be given a red hat next month (Photo: CNS)

When I lived in Africa, I sometimes used to meet students from Burkina Faso, which is one of the continent’s lesser-known countries, and was called Upper Volta in the days of French colonial rule. Its capital is Ouagadougou, generally known as Ouaga to those who live there; I used to run across French missionary priests in Kenya who had spent time there and spoke of the place with affection. The students from Burkina Faso were always pleased that I had heard of their country and its capital city, which is somewhat off the beaten track. If you want to fly into Ouaga, for example, it usually means changing planes in Paris.

Ouaga, along with Westminster, now has an archbishop who is shortly to be made a cardinal, which must be a matter of great satisfaction to its Catholic inhabitants, who make up about 50 per cent of its population (the other 50 per cent are Muslims). Indeed, like Westminster, it has been singled out by the Pope; or, given that the cardinal’s hat is given to the incumbent rather than the diocese as a whole, its archbishop, Philippe Ouédraogo, has been singled out by the Holy Father.

To be chosen among the 16 new voting cardinals is indeed an honour when one considers that so many places and men have not been chosen. Brussels, Lisbon, Tokyo, to name just a few, along with Turin and Venice have all been passed over, at least this time. Neither is there anyone from Scotland or Ireland. Burkina Faso can feel proud that the Pope holds it so dear, as can England and Wales.

Another place that may well be feeling in celebratory mood is Perugia. The last cardinal from Perugia was Vincenzo Pecci, who became Pope Leo XIII back in 1878. The current archbishop, of whom I have up to now never heard, is Gualtiero Bassetti, 71. Presumably the Pope has met the archbishop on many occassions, perhaps before he became Pope too, at various synods. An Italian newspaper report says of the cardinal-designate that he is a pastor with a taste for radical social involvement, who in his New Year sermon called for owners of empty flats to rent them out cheaply to those who needed them. In this he sounds just like a kindred spirit of the Pope.

There has certainly been a geographical rebalancing in the College of Cardinals: the Philippines at long last gets another cardinal, and the Caribbean gets two, one voting, one not. But there is also a rebalancing act in another sense. It is pastors like Bassetti who are being promoted rather than functionaries like the Vatican Librarian, who was always a cardinal in the past. Only 16 new voters have joined the world’s most exclusive electorate: but these 16 perhaps point to the future orientation of the College.