PETALING JAYA: The Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia is rejoicing following the news that Pope Francis had elevated a Malaysian Archbishop to the high rank of cardinal.
The pontiff made the surprise announcement during his weekly Sunday address at the Vatican, naming Archbishop Emeritus Anthony Soter Fernandez of Kuala Lumpur as one of 17 new cardinals, Reuters reported yesterday.
This makes Fernandez the first cardinal in the local church’s history. He will be officially made a cardinal in a ceremony known as a consistory, that is scheduled to be held on Nov 19 at the Vatican.
According to Herald Malaysia’s website, the 84-year-old was ordained a priest on Dec 10, 1966, and was later appointed Bishop of Penang on Sept 29, 1977, prior to his elevation to Archbishop of KL on July 30, 1983.
Fernandez, who was born on April 22, 1932, retired as the archbishop on May 24, 2003, at the age of 71.
Following his retirement, the Cardinal-elect had continued to serve the Archdiocese of KL and later was assigned as Spiritual Father to College General Major Seminary, Penang.
Upon completing his term at the Major Seminary, he returned to the Archdiocese of KL and continues to serve as Chaplain at the St Francis Xavier Home for the Elderly, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.
Fernandez was also one of four new cardinals who were over the age of 80, as well as one of four archbishops from countries who were getting a cardinal for the first time.
Joining Malaysia in welcoming their first ever cardinal are Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Central African Republic (CAR).
The move was seen by Vatican observers as part of Pope Francis’ move to make the Roman Catholic Church less Euro-centric.
The 17 new cardinals were from 15 different countries with the United States of America (USA) having three new cardinals, one of whom will be heading a newly-created department in the Vatican.
Aside from the Americans, four of the new cardinals were from Europe – Italy, Spain, Belgium and Albania; three from Asia – Malaysia, Syria and Bangladesh; three from Africa – CAR, Lesotho and Mauritius; two from South America – Brazil and Venezuela; one each from Central America and Oceania – Mexico and PNG, respectively.
According to Reuters, with this current batch, Francis has now named 44 cardinal-electors, slightly more than two-thirds of the total of 120 allowed by Church law.
It will also be his third consistory since March 2013, when he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years, following the sudden retirement of Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinals, who are known as “princes of the Church”, are the most senior members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy after the pope and serve as his principal advisers around the world and in the Vatican.
Cardinals under the age of 80 are also called cardinal-electors, in that they would be participating in the process of voting for the next pope, and being eligible themselves to be the next pope.