Tanzanian Cardinal Takes Possession of Rome’s "Church of the Artists", His Titular See

Cardinal Protase Rugambwa at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18 | Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

The Local Ordinary of Tanzania’s Tabora Archdiocese, Protase Cardinal Rugambwa, has taken possession of his titular see, Santa Maria in Montesanto. The church, also known as the “Church of the Artists”, is one of the twin churches that sits in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, alongside the adjacent Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

Located within the geographic boundaries of the Diocese of Rome, a titular church is assigned to a cardinal to symbolize the bond between the Cardinal and the Holy Father, as well as the communion between the local and universal Church.

The Sunday, February 18 event followed the set Rite of Possession of titular churches, which take place within the context of a solemn high Mass. After the procession of Cardinal Rugambwa into the church and the opening liturgical prayers, the Papal bull assigning him the titular church following his 30 September 2023 Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Montesanto, the same day he was elevated to Cardinal, was read aloud.

Cardinal Protase Rugambwa at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

The Tanzanian-born Cardinal was joined by Priests from the Diocese of Rome as well as by some Vatican-based Church leaders, including Arthur Cardinal Roche, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, his predecessor, Robert Cardinal Sarah, and the Pro-Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, Luis Antonio Gokim Cardinal Tagle. Sr. Raffaella Petrini, the Secretary General of the Governorate of the Vatican City, the first woman to hold the position, was also in attendance.


Born in May 1960 in Tanzania’s Diocese of Bukoba, Cardinal Rugambwa was ordained a Priest for the country’s Diocese of Rulenge-Ngara in September 1990 after completing his Priestly formation and studies.

The Alumnus of the Rome-based Pontifical Lateran University where he obtained a doctorate in Pastoral Theology was appointed the Local Ordinary of Tanzania’s Catholic Diocese of Kigoma in 2008.

In June 2012, he was appointed Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fide) and president of the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) with the personal title of Archbishop. 

Procession at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

In November 2017, he was appointed Secretary of Propaganda Fide, the Vatican department tasked with “the transmission and dissemination of the faith throughout the whole world” that has “the specific responsibility of coordinating and guiding all the Church's diverse missionary efforts and initiatives”, which he served until March 2023.

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The following month, he was appointed the Coadjutor Archbishop for Tanzania’s Tabora Archdiocese; in November 2023, he succeeded Archbishop Paul Runangaza Ruzoka, who had turned 75, his canonical age of retirement.

Earlier, during the 30 September 2023 Consistory, the Tanzanian Catholic Church leader was among the 21 new Cardinals from across the world that Pope Francis created. The Holy Father appointed him Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Montesanto.

He is Tanzania’s third Cardinal, after the late Laurean Cardinal Rugambwa, who was elevated to Cardinal March 1960, becoming the first modern native African Cardinal of the Catholic Church; and Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, who will turn 80 on August 5, thus losing his privilege to vote in future conclaves.

Cardinal Protase Rugambwa at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Cardinal Rugambwa’s titular church, Santa Maria in Montesanto, is a Baroque church that was constructed in the second half of the 17th century over the site of an earlier church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and under the care of the Carmelite Friars.


The original plan was designed by the architect Carlo Rainaldi, under the patronage of Cardinal Girolamo Gastaldi and Pope Alexander VII. Though work was interrupted following the death of Pope Alexander in 1667, it resumed several years under the supervision of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. 

Santa Maria in Montesanto was entrusted to the Carmelites until 1825 when Pope Leo XII ordered its restoration and it was subsequently given the little of minor basilica. 

In 1951 Pope Pius XII established the Mass of the Artists and the church was selected as its seat. The tradition of the Mass of the Artists continues in this church today and is held every Sunday from the end of October to the end of June. 

Reflecting this bond between the Church and artists, the church has also been the location of numerous art installations and has been the place of numerous funeral services of prominent Italian artists. It was also the place of the 1904 episcopal ordination of Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope St. John XXIII.

This story was first published by CNA, ACI Africa’s U.S.-based news partner. It has been adapted by ACI Africa.

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