© Reuters. Pope Francis attends the inauguration of the Laudato Si School in Rome, Italy, May 19, 2022. Photo: Guglielmo Manggiapan – Reuters

By Philip Bolilla

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis announced on Sunday that he will appoint 21 new cardinals in August, including an Italian, to lead the church in Mongolia, once again putting his stamp on the future of Catholicism.

Of the 21, 16 elector cardinals are under the age of 80 and are therefore entitled to attend a secret meeting to elect his successor upon his death or resignation.

After the formal inauguration ceremony on August 27, known as the Consistory, Francis will appoint about 83 of about 133 electors a cardinal, raising the possibility that his successor will be a man who reflects his position on major issues.

By then, Francis had appointed about 63% of the electorate a cardinal, increased their presence in the developing world, and once again loosened Europe’s hold on the College of Cardinals.

Among the new voters is Archbishop Giorgio Marengo, an Italian who currently runs the Catholic Church in Mongolia. The country borders China, where the Vatican is trying to improve the position of Catholics.

Other Cardinal electors come from France, Nigeria, Brazil, India, the United States, East Timor, Italy, Ghana, Singapore, and Paraguay. It is scheduled to become three Vatican officials scheduled to become a cardinal next August from South Korea, Britain and Spain.

Once again, Francis bypassed the archbishops of big cities that traditionally had cardinals before his 2013 election, preferring to appoint men in remote places where the church is small or growing and more dynamic than Europe.

By appointing cardinals in Singapore, Mongolia, India, and East Timor, Francis appears to be trying to increase the status and influence of the Church in Asia, a growing economic and political power.

New cardinals from other developing countries include the Archbishops of Ekolobia in Nigeria, Manaus and Brasilia in Brazil, Goa and Hyderabad in India, Wa in Ghana and Asuncion in Paraguay.

The promotion to Cardinal Bishop Robert McIlroy of San Diego, California, is significant because he was an outspoken ally of Francis’ pastoral approach to issues such as environmental protection and a more open approach toward gay Catholics.

By making McElroy a cardinal, Francis marched above the conservative archbishops of San Francisco and Los Angeles, two large cities that traditionally had cardinals in the past.