(GIN) – Bishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, is one of five men from four continents elevated by Pope Francis to the College of Cardinals. The move continues the Pope’s practice of adding men from the peripheries of the Catholic word to the body that will elect his successor.
In choosing the five clerics, the Argentine pope passed over dioceses in Italy, the U.S. and other countries whose bishops traditionally receive the rank.
The weekend announcement underscores two priorities of the pope’s reign since his election in 2013: the needs of the poor and reaching out to other religions.
Monsignor Zerbo, 73, played an active role in the negotiations to end a civil war in Mali that broke out in 2012 and officially ended in 2015. In 2012, he was a member of the civil society delegation who took part in the talks held in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) between the military junta and political opposition parties.
When a Catholic nun from Colombia, South America was abducted by armed men in the southern Malian city of Karangasso last February, Bishop Zerbo shared his hope for an end to conflict. “Peace can only be achieved through the conversion of the hearts,” he said, “regardless of faith.”
He also served as president of Caritas Mali, an international aid program for refugees and the poor.
Africa represents about 12.63% of global Catholic population and currently, only about 12.1% of the African cardinals are eligible to vote in a papal election.
Meanwhile, President Trump, on his first foreign trip, is making three important stops to major religious sites – Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam; Jerusalem, including a stop at the Western Wall; and the Vatican, in order to meet Pope Francis.
The choice of countries underscores efforts by the Trump administration to overcome the rhetoric of his campaign speeches that singled out Muslims with prejudicial remarks.
Bishop Zerbo joins two other cardinals from countries with minuscule numbers of Catholics: Sweden and Laos. For El Salvador, a majority-Catholic country, Pope Francis will be elevating the assistant to assistants, Bishop José Gregorio Rosa Chávez.
Cardinal-designate Rosa Chávez was a close associate of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, a martyred champion of social justice whom Pope Francis approved for beatification, the church’s highest honor short of sainthood, in 2015. w/pix of Bishop Jean Zerbo