In a surprise announcement Sunday, Pope Francis named five new cardinals, for Spain, El Salvador and three countries where Catholics are a tiny minority: Mali, Laos and Sweden.
"Their origin, from different parts of the world, manifests the universality of the Church spread out all over the Earth," Francis said, speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace to thousands of faithful in St. Peter's Square.
Those chosen are Monsignor Jean Zerbo, archbishop of Bamako, Mali; Monsignor Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain; Monsignor Anders Arborelius, bishop of Stockholm; Monsignor Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, an auxiliary bishop in San Salvador, El Salvador.
Francis will formally elevate the churchmen to cardinal's rank in a ceremony at the Vatican on June 28. Then the new "princes of the church," as the red-hatted, elite corps of churchmen who elect popes are known, will co-celebrate Mass with Francis the next day, the Feast Day of Sts. Peter and Paul, an important Vatican holiday.
Since being elected pontiff in 2013, Francis has gone out of his way to visit his flock in places where Catholics are in the minority, as well as to improve relations between churches and among believers of different faiths.
His brief pilgrimage last year to Sweden, where Lutherans are the Christian majority, was hailed by some as instrumental in helping to improve relations between the two churches. While there, he joined Lutheran leaders in a common commemoration of the Protestant Reformation that divided Europe five centuries ago.
In Mali, Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority.
And in Laos, the tiny Catholic community has struggled to persevere, including under communist-led rule.
Catholicism has been the majority religion in Spain and in El Salvador, although in parts of Central and South America, evangelical Protestant sects have been gaining converts from the Catholic church.