In a surprise announcement, Pope Francis said Sunday he will elevate five men from four continents to the College of Cardinals next month, continuing his practice of adding men from the peripheries of the Catholic world to the body that will elect his successor, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The Pope again passed over dioceses in Italy, the U.S. and other countries whose bishops traditionally receive the rank.
The new cardinals, whom the pope will bestow with red hats at a Vatican ceremony June 28, hail from Mali, Spain, Sweden, Laos and El Salvado.
Notes the Journal, three of the cardinals come from countries with minuscule numbers of Catholics: Mali, Sweden and Laos.
Mali is 95% Muslim. Laos is less than 1% Catholic.
Sweden, one of the few European countries Pope Francis has visited as pope, has an estimated 150,000 Catholics out of population of nearly 10 million.
And in El Salvador, a majority-Catholic country, Pope Francis will be giving the red hat not to the archbishop of San Salvador, the country’s most prominent bishop, but to one of his assistants, Bishop José Gregorio Rosa Chávez. According to the Journal, Cardinal-designate Rosa Chávez was a close associate of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, a martyred champion of social justice.
These new appointments—the fourth batch appointed by Pope Francis—will bring the number of cardinals eligible to participate in a papal election to 121. That number includes Italian Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, who reaches the mandatory retirement age of 80 on Feb. 3 of next year. His birthday will then bring the number down to the limit of 120 established by Pope Paul VI.
Forty-nine of those, or 40%, will have been named by Pope Francis.