On the 13th day of March 2023, the Holy Father celebrated his 10 years in office as a pope. The landmark of the ceremony was the goodwill message from the Church in Africa. Through the President of all the Catholic Bishops in Africa, the Church in this continent expressed her profound gratitude for the magnanimity of the Holy Father. Since the publication of the goodwill message, many have been wondering what the Holy Father did for Africa in his ten years reign as a pope. The very glaring feat was the creation of 14 cardinals within the short space. It is also important to note that the holy Father chose the least expected. A typical example was the son of a rubber tapper in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We also have the case of a Bishop-elect who was rejected by the Diocese he had been assigned in Nigeria, and a young priest who spent a year in an Ethiopian jail, the stories of African Cardinals created by Pope Francis are awe-inspiring. Since his election as Pope on 13 March 2013, Pope Francis has created 14 African Cardinals. Here are their profiles
Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo Besungu
Born of a rubber tapper in Boto, DRC, 63 years ago, Fridolin cardinal Ambongo Besungu was ordained Priest in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap) in 1987.
He served as a Priest for 16 years and was appointed Bishop of Bokungu-Ikela Diocese where he served for twelve years until his appointment as Archbishop of Kinshasa in 2018. The Congolese Catholic Church leader who was elevated to Cardinal on 5 October 2019 has been described as “a zealous pastor and a direct, straightforward man.” La Croix quoted Fr. Clement Makiobo, who studied with Cardinal Ambongo, that his colleague had remained “passionate about justice and law issues” since opposing dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled then-Zaire from 1965 to 1997.
Cardinal Ambongo testified at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague in 2016 on local warlord activities. He was elected Vice-President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) and later succeeded the late Richard Kuuia Cardinal Baawobr who died in November 2022, months after he had been elected SECAM President.
Antoine Cardinal Kambanda
Small Christian Communities (SCCs) are a big deal in the Catholic Church in Africa. In fact, it is considered the basic unit of the Church on the continent.
Antoine Cardinal Kambanda, the 64-year-old native of Rwanda’s Catholic Archdiocese of Kigali has devoted his work to growing SCCs. Cardinal Kambanda studied in Burundi, Uganda, and Kenya, and was ordained a Priest on 8 September 1990 by St. John Paul II. He was appointed Bishop of Kibungo Diocese in 2013 where he served for five years until his appointment as Archbishop of Kigali in 2018. His episcopal motto is “Ut vitam habeant’’ (That They May Have Life).
The Catholic Church leader who was elevated to Cardinal during the 28 November 2020 Consistory is currently the Vice President of the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda (CEPR) and doubles as the Chairman of the CEPR’s Commission for Justice and Peace (CEJP). He is also the Chairman of the Rwanda Interfaith Council on Health (RICH).
Jean-Pierre Cardinal Kutwa
While serving as Parish Priest of Notre Dame du Perpétual Secours in Treichville, Ivory Coast, then Fr. Jean-Pierre Kutwa was involved in a terrible accident and many thought that he was going to die. Jean-Pierre Cardinal Kutwa, the Archbishop of Abidjan in Ivory Coast, was born on 22 December 1945 at Blockhauss in the Archdiocese of Abidjan. After attending the minor Seminary in Bingerville, he completed his Priestly studies at Anyama, and was ordained a Priest for the Archdiocese of Abidjan on 11 July 1971.
He served in many Church positions in, and outside his native country before 2 June 2001 when he was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Gagnoa, Ivory Coast, and Consecrated the same year, on September 16. In October 2005, he participated as a delegate of the Bishops of Ivory Coast in the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.
On 2 May 2006, he was transferred to Abidjan Archdiocese. In the Episcopal Conference of Ivory Coast (CECCI), he served as head of the Commission for the Lay Apostolate, and as deputy grand chancellor of the Catholic University of West Africa (UCAO). He also served as Vice President of the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA). He was created Cardinal during the Consistory of 22 February 2014. Today, he serves on the Dicasteries for the Evangelization; for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Arlindo Cardinal Gomes Furtado
Arlindo Cardinal Gomes Furtado goes down in history as the first Cardinal from Cape Verde. The Local Ordinary of Santiago de Cabo Verde (Archipelago of Cape Verde) was born in November 1949 in Santa Catarina, in the Diocese of Santiago de Cabo Verde, and was ordained a Priest on 18 July 1976.
From 1978-1986 he served as Rector of the São José Minor Seminary, amid other stints, including teaching English at a high school in his native country. He was ordained Bishop on 9 December 2003, subsequent to his appointment as the first Bishop of the newly-established Diocese of Mindelo.
On 22 July 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Bishop of Santiago de Cabo Verde. He was elevated to Cardinal during the Consistory of 14 February 2015. The Cape Verdean Cardinal “is praised not only for his pastoral zeal but also for taking a keen interest in the pastoral welfare of Cape Verdean communities in the diaspora.”Today, Cardinal Gomes Furtado serves on the Dicasteries for Evangelization; and Divine Worship, and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Júlio Cardinal Duarte Langa
Júlio Cardinal Duarte Langa, Bishop emeritus of Xai-Xai in Mozambique, is known for editing the translation of the texts of Vatican Council II into local languages. Born on 27 October 1927 in Mangunze, Mozambique, he was ordained a Priest in the Cathedral of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) on 9 June 1957.
He served in various capacities and was appointed as consultor, member of the presbyteral council, and vicar general of the Diocese. On 31 May 1976, Pope Paul VI appointed him as Bishop of the Diocese of João Belo, which was renamed Xai-Xai the same year on October 1. He received Episcopal Consecration on 24 October 1976.
He shepherded the people of God in the Diocese until 24 June 2004, for twenty-eight years which were marked by a long civil war, followed by the country’s independence in 1992. During his ministry he placed great emphasis on the church in places that were in particular need, struck by epidemics or natural disasters. He was created and proclaimed Cardinal by Pope Francis in the Consistory of 14 February 2015.
Dieudonné Cardinal Nzapalainga
He is the first Cardinal in the Central African Republic (CAR), and the youngest Cardinal at the time of being named in 2016.
Dieudonné Cardinal Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui was born on March 14th, 1967 in the Diocese of Bangassou, CAR. He was ordained a Priest in the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) on 9 August 1998, and proceeded to a mission in France, before returning to CAR where he served as the President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Central Africa.
On 14 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Bangui, and in November 2015, he welcomed Pope Francis in the Diocese of Bangui where the Holy Father opened the first door of the Holy Year of Mercy.
In 2013, he participated, alongside the president of the Islamic Council and the president of the Evangelical Alliance in Bangui, in the foundation of the interfaith Platform for Peace in Central Africa. He was elevated to Cardinal during the 19 November 2016 Consistory. The Cardinal is a member of Dicasteries for Evangelization; and for Inter-religious Dialogue. Philippe Cardinal Ouédraogo
Credit: Fr. Paul Dah
Philippe Cardinal Ouedraogo Nakellentuba, Metropolitan Archbishop of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, was born on 25 January 1945 in the Diocese of Kaya. He was ordained a Priest on 14 July 1973 for Kaya Diocese. As a Priest, he served as Assistant Parish Priest of the Cathedral of Kaya, after which he completed a degree in canon law at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome between 1978-1982.
He served the Catholic Church in various capacities, including as a member of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. On 5 July 1996, he was appointed by then Blessed John Paul II as Bishop of Ouahigouya in Burkina Faso and by Pope Benedict XVI as Archbishop of Ouagadougou.
He was elevated to Cardinal during the Consistory of 22 February 2014. He was elected President of SECAM during 19-29 July 2019 Plenary Assembly that was held in Kampala under the theme, “That they may know Christ and have life in abundance.”
Ministering in a country that faces serious security challenges, especially from Islamist militants who often target places of worship, Cardinal Ouedraogo has been very vocal in condemning these acts of violence against the suffering population. He proposed interreligious dialogue as a vital solution to terrorism in the Sahel region. Today, the Cardinal is a member of Dicasteries for Evangelization; Divine Worship, and the Discipline of the Sacraments.; and for interreligious dialogue.
Berhaneyesus Demerew Cardinal Souraphiel
Berhaneyesus Demerew Cardinal Souraphiel, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, was born in Cheleleqa, Ethiopia on 14 July 1948. He was ordained a Priest in the Congregation of the Mission on 4 July 1976 in Ethiopia where he was imprisoned by the Communists from 1979 to 1980. On 25 January 1998, he was ordained Bishop to serve as Auxiliary Bishop of Addis Ababa Archdiocese. On 7 July 1999 he was appointed Archbishop of Addis Ababa.
Since 1999 he has served as president of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Episcopal Conference, and also president of the Council of the Ethiopian Church since 1998. In 2014 he was elected chairman of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA). He was created and proclaimed Cardinal by Pope Francis in the Consistory of 14 February 2015, and is a member of the Dicastery for the Oriental Churches.
Maurice Cardinal Piat
Maurice Cardinal Piat, the Bishop of Port-Louis in Mauritius was born in Moka, Diocese of Port-Louis on 19 July 1941 and ordained a Priest in the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) on 2 August 1970.
After serving in various apostolates in India and back in his native country of Mauritius, he was Consecrated Bishop of Port Louis on 13 March 1993. He was president of the Episcopal Conference of the Indian Ocean (CEDOI) from 1996 to 2002; from 2013 to September 2016; and again in 2020.
He participated in the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: The vocation and the mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world (October 2015). The Local Ordinary of Port-Louis Diocese was elevated to Cardinal during the Consistory of 19 November 2016.
Sebastian Cardinal Koto Khoarai
Lesotho’s first Cardinal, Sebastian Cardinal Koto Khoarai, Bishop Emeritus of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho, was born in Koaling, in the Diocese of Leribe, on 11 September 1929. He was ordained a Priest on 21 December 1956; he was Consecrated Bishop on 10 November 1977 as the Local Ordinary of Mohale’s Hoek.
In May 2006, he submitted his resignation letter upon reaching the age limit; he remained the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese until February 2014. From 1982 to 1987, he served as president of the Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference (LCBC). He was elevated to Cardinal during the Consistory of 19 November 2016. Sebastian Cardinal Koto Khoarai died on 17 April 2021.
Jean Cardinal Zerbo
Jean Cardinal Zerbo is a key figure in the peace processes in Mali. The Archbishop of Bamako was born in Segou on 27 December 1943. His Priestly Ordination took place on 10 July 1971, in Segou, and he was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamako on 21 June 1988. On 19 December 1994, he was transferred, as titular Bishop, to the Diocese of Mopti. On 27 June 1998, he was appointed Archbishop of Bamako.
He has played an active role in the peace negotiations in Mali, has been involved in the fight against exclusion, and, above all, has promoted reconciliation and solidarity among Malians. The Malian Prelate was elevated to Cardinal during the consistory of 28 June 2017. He is a member of the Dicastries for the Evangelization; and for Laity, Family, and Life.
Désiré Cardinal Tsarahazana
Désiré Cardinal Tsarahazana, Archbishop of Toamasina (Madagascar), was born in Amboangibe on 13 June 1954 and was ordained a Priest on 28 September 1986. He served in various capacities as a Priest before his 30 October 2000 appointment as Bishop of Fenoarivo Atsinanana. He was transferred to the then Diocese of Toamasina on 24 November 2008 and elevated to Archbishop of the same See on 26 February 2010.
He has served as President of the Episcopal Conference of Mozambique (C.E.M since 2015), and on 14 July 2018, Pope Francis appointed him President Delegate of the XV Ordinary General Assembly on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. He was elevated to Cardinal during the Consistory of 28 June 2018. The Cardinal is a member of the Dicasteries: for the Evangelization;; and for Culture and Education.
Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke
For the opposition he faced from the Diocese he was assigned by Pope Francis in 2018, Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke is the epitome of humility and perseverance in the Church in Africa. In April 2018, he resigned as Bishop following sustained opposition to his Episcopal appointment for Nigeria’s Ahiara Diocese. He was among the 21 new Cardinals that Pope Francis named on 29 May 2022, and elevated to Cardinals during the 27 August 2022 Consistory.
He was impeded from setting foot in the territory covered by Ahiara Diocese and many Church activities were halted including the ordination of candidates to Diaconate. The Bishop of Ekwulobia in Nigeria was born on 1 March 1963, in Amesi, Aguata Local Government Area, Anambra State. He was Ordained a Priest on 22 August 1992 for Nigeria’s Diocese of Awka.
As a Priest, he held various positions before Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Bishop of Ahiara in 2012. Following his rejection, Pope Francis appointed him the first Bishop of the Diocese of Ekwulobia on 5 March 2020. Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke is a member of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
Richard Kuuia Cardinal Baawobr
Richard Kuuia Cardinal Baawobr died on 27 November 2022, exactly three months after he had been elevated to Cardinal.
During the 27 August 2022 Consistory, Pope Francis appealed for prayers for the Ghanaian Cardinal who missed the event due to what the Holy Father termed “a heart problem”.
Cardinal Baawobr was born on 21 June 1959, in Tom-Zendagangn, Diocese of Wa, and was ordained a Priest of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) on 18 July 1987.
Before he was appointed Bishop in February 2016, the Ghanaian-born Catholic Church leader had served as first Assistant General of the Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa for a six-year term; in May 2010, he was elected the first African Superior General of the Catholic Congregation that was founded in 1868.
He was chosen by the Union of Superiors General to participate in the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, 4-25 October 2015.
On 17 February 2016, Pope Francis appointed him Bishop of the Diocese of Wa, Ghana, and on 4 July 2020, he was appointed member and Consultor of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The late Cardinal had been elected President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) on July 30 at the end of the 19th Plenary Assembly of the continental symposium that was held in Accra, the capital city of Ghana
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