Who are the Five Cardinals-elect with African Connections?

Cardinals attending service at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome

As the Church in Africa continues to relive good memories of the just concluded fourth pastoral visit of Pope Francis to the continent, might the elevation of five Prelates with African connections to cardinalate next month be an illustration of the closeness of the Holy Father to Africa?

While many news agencies focused on the new Cardinals who will be eligible to vote in a future conclave and highlighted only two African Catholic leaders, ACI Africa has sought to provide a profile of five Cardinals-elect who have connections with Africa.

Tanzanian-born Laurean Cardinal Rugambwa is known to be the first modern native African Cardinal having been elevated to the cardinalate in 1960 by Pope John XXIII. Following his death in 1997, it was reported that his elevation to Cardinals’ college “was a signal of the church’s recognition of its debt to its non-European clergy, and of the growing importance of Catholic congregations in parts of the world that had once been the domain of European missionaries.”

The connections of the five Cardinals-elect to Africa are not necessarily related to the candidates’ birth in or naturalization to African nations. In fact, only one of the five, DR Congo’s Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, a Franciscan Capuchin (OFM, Cap), is African-born.

The other four are Spanish-born Archbishop Cristóbal Lòpez Romero, Italian-born Bishop Eugénio Dal Corso, English-born Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald, and Spanish-born Archbishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot.


Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Kinshasa, DR Congo

Born son of a rubber tapper in Boto, DR Congo 59 years ago, Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu took his final vows in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M., Cap) in 1987 and ordained priest of the same order the following year.

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 last year (2018).

He had previously taught at Kinshasa's Catholic university as a faculty professor. He also served at one time as Major Superior of O.F.M. Capuchins' Congolese province.

The Secretary General of Congolese bishops' conference, Msgr. Donatien Nshole described him as “a zealous pastor and a direct, straightforward man.”

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La Croix daily quoted Father Clement Makiobo, who studied with Archbishop Besungu, 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. He said the cardinal-designate also focused on defending democracy and legality rather than directly "opposing the power in place."

It is therefore not surprising that in pursuit of his lifelong passion to protect human rights, Archbishop Besungu testified at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague in 2016 on local warlord activities.

According to reports, he was a key architect of the December 31, 2016 Catholic Church-brokered accord on elections to replace President Kabila. When the accord was violated, he endorsed Catholics-led protests and condemned police violence. 

Upon his appointment as bishop in 2018, the Jeune Afrique weekly described him as “a man of the church who doesn’t mince his words.”

The Congolese Cardinal-elect has as his motto, 'Omnia Omnibus' (All things for all people).


Archbishop Cristóbal Lòpez Romero of Rabat, Morocco

Born in 1952 in Spain, he was ordained a priest of Salesians of Don Bosco in 1979.

By virtue of his service in Morocco, and of the good relations he developed with the Christian and Muslim religious leaders present in the country, Pope Francis appointed him Archbishop of Rabat in 2017.

Upon his nomination as cardinal-elect, Archbishop López Romero wrote on his Facebook page, “I would like every greeting to become a prayer for the Pope, for the Church, for this diocese of Rabat and for my person. I thank Pope Francis for the difference he has shown me and I intend to continue to serve the Church by helping her with everything she needs.”

He reiterated what he explained when he was appointed Bishop saying, “My title and diploma of the highest category is that of being "son of God", saying he obtained it in Baptism.

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“I am at the top (like most of you); I cannot ascend or be promoted, since more than the son of God one cannot be,” he stated.

Bishop Eugénio Dal Corso of Benguela, Angola

80-year-old Bishop Emeritus Eugénio Dal Corso was given the name "Eugenio" upon birth to honor Pope Pius XII who was elected Pope two months before his birth.

He was ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Poor Servants of Divine Providence in 1963, in Verona (Italy), his homeland.

He later specialized in Dogmatic Theology while doing pastoral work in various parishes in Italy. He was sent as a missionary to Argentina in 1975, where he helped in formation ministry.

In 1986, the leadership of his religious order commissioned him to Angola’s Luanda. In 1991 he was appointed the Provincial Superior of his order in Angola.

Pope John Paul II appointed him the Coadjutor Bishop of Saurimo, Angola in 1995 and became bishop of the same diocese two years later.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI named him Bishop of Benguela.

Pope Francis accepted his resignation in 2018 at the age of 78.

Bishop emeritus Dal Corso will become the second Cardinal in the history of the Angolan Church, after D. Alexandre do Nascimento.

Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald, emeritus of Nepte, Tunisia

Born in Walsall, United Kingdom, in 1937 in a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent, Archbishop Fitzgerald is a Missionary of Africa (White Father).

With the desire to become a priest and a missionary, he joined the junior seminary of the society of Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) at the early age of 12, first in Scotland, then in the South of England.

He entered the Society of the Missionaries of Africa in 1950. He studied philosophy in England and Ireland. He attended his novitiate in the Netherlands and pursued his theological studies in Tunisia, where he began learning Arabic and acquiring some knowledge of Islam.

He was ordained a priest in the Society in 1961. Upon ordination he was sent to Rome to study Dogmatic Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Among his teachers was prominent Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan. He completed his doctorate in Theology in 1965 on the missionary intention in the writings of the Latin apologists. In 1987 he was appointed Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

He was appointed Titular Bishop of Nepte in 1991 and later Archbishop of the same jurisdiction in 2002. 

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as Apostolic Nuncio of Egypt where he remained until he resigned in 2012, after having reached the age limit.

The Cardinal-elect is one of the leading experts on Islam, Christian-Muslim relations and interreligious dialogue in the senior hierarchy of the Catholic Church. He has several publications in the same area and is fluent in Arabic.

Archbishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

The historian of Islam Archbishop Ayuso Guixot is a member of Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus. Born in Seville, Spain in 1952 and ordained priest in 1982, he is going to be the first-ever Comboni Cardinal.

His connections with Africa are justified by the fact that he worked as a missionary in Egypt and Sudan for a period of 20 years, namely, from the time he was ordained (1982) until 2002.

He has spearheaded interreligious discussions in a number of African countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Kenya, and Sudan.

From 1989, the Archbishop was professor of Islamic Studies in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, and then in Cairo, Egypt.

He was appointed President of PISAI in 2005 where he had earned his licentiate in Arabic and Islamic studies back in 1982 and served till 2012 when Pope emeritus Benedict XVI appointed him Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue.

Pope Francis appointed him President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue last May and named him a member of the Congregation for Oriental Church on August 6, 2019.

He has a doctorate in Dogmatic Theology, which he received from the University of Granada, Spain, in 2000.

When he was named among those to be made Cardinals next month, he considered the position an opportunity to “promote interreligious dialogue.”

“I will have a deeper opportunity to be generous in giving my life for serving the Church in promoting interreligious dialogue,” he stated.