Bishop Américo Aguiar was taken by surprise by the Pope's announcement. Image: Lusa
Bishop Américo Aguiar was taken by surprise by the Pope's announcement. Image: Lusa

“Profound jubilation” as Pope elevates World Youth Day bishop to cardinal

Américo Aguiar one of 21 new bishops eligible to choose Pope’s eventual successor

President Marcelo has reacted with “profound jubilation” over the Pope’s announcement yesterday that Portuguese bishop Américo Aguiar – the Catholic Church’s key player in the organisation of World Youth Day, coming to Lisbon next month – is to be elevated to the status of cardinal.

Prime minister António Costa has also tweeted the choice “very much prestiges Portugal” and “fills us with joy”.

The 49-year-old bishop (a mere strippling in cardinal terms) was completely taken aback by the news, telling reporters from a warehouse in which he was helping young people prepare World Youth Day material, that when he started receiving text messages, he thought they were “a joke”. He also confessed to having been nicknamed ‘cardinal’ since his early days in the seminary.

What his appointment means, beyond the benefits and prestige for Portugal, is that Pope Francis is ringing the changes in terms of Church hierarchy, and bolstering the “hispanic voice” in the College of Cardinals, which will now have 137 ‘eligible to vote in conclave’ (the process that takes place when a new Pope has to be chosen).

No cardinal over the age of 80 is eligible for this process – and in the past it has been one rife with ‘alliances’/ factions.

Explains columnist Alfredo Leite (deputy director of Correio da Manhã) “With more cardinals spread across the world and nominated by Francis, the Pope reinforces his current against the more orthodox sectors of the Vatican and makes the formation of alliances more difficult”.

Américo Aguiar, the man ‘always in the frame’ in photographs showing preparations for World Youth Day (now little more than three weeks away), appears to be taking it all in his stride.

He will be off shortly to Ukraine, to visit young people there who, because of the war, are unable to travel to Lisbon for World Youth Day – and then he will be back, doing what he has been doing for weeks to ensure World Youth Day is the success everyone hopes it will be.

Known for his humour, the bishop quipped yesterday: “Now I have a problem, in that I converted recently from Benfica” (a club characterised by the colour red) “to Porto” (a club characterised by the colour blue) “but there are no blue vestments (in the College of Cardinals), so I don’t know how things will be…”

The Pope will formally install the new 21 cardinals in a ceremony at the Vatican on September 30.

His announcement means that Portugal will have a total of six clergy in the College of Cardinals. Current members are Manuel Clemente, Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, António Marto, Bishop Emeritus of Leiria-Fatima, José Tolentino Mendonça, Archivist and Librarian of the Holy See, Manuel Monteiro de Castro, Penitentiary Major Emeritus and José Saraiva Martins, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

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