The first ripple of an expected major shake-up of the Curia arrived today, as Pope Francis appointed a new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament, the dicastery that oversees all expressions of worship in the Church, most importantly the liturgy, as well as the sacraments. He is Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Guinean prelate who was once one of the youngest bishops ever, as St. Pope John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Conakry at the age of just 34 in 1979.
Cardinal Sarah follows in the footsteps of Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, wh returned to his native Spain as Archbishop of Valencia in August, but perhaps even more so in those of Cardinal Francis Arinze, who led the Congregation from 2002 to 2008. Cardinal Sarah is the second African to lead this office since it was created as the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1588.
Cardinal Sarah previously led the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, which coordinates the Church’s efforts in aid and charity, and which is expected to be merged with various other dicasteries soon. Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in 2010. Before that, Cardinal Sarah was the Archbishop of Conakry in Guinea from 1979 to 2001 and Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples from 2001 to 2010.
The appointment of Cardinal Sarah is unavoidably notable in the light of the Synod of Bishops and the impression of Pope Francis’ priorities. Cardinal Sarah, like many of his African colleagues, has little time for deviations of the Church’s teaching nor, especially important in his new function, for the western tendency for liturgical experimentation.
For the Congregation for Divine Worship, or CDW for short, this means the start of a new era in leadership. After the departure of Cardinal Cañizares, the Congregation also saw two of its undersecretaries, British Father Anthony Ward and Spanish Msgr. Juan Miguel Ferrer Grenesche, resign, leaving only the secretary, English Archbishop Arthur Roche. Pope Francis did appoint a new undersecretary, Italian Fr. Corrado Maggioni, earlier this month, and with Cardinal Sarah the Congregation seems to be off to a new and refreshed start.
Cardinal Sarah is a hands-on kind of man, and in his previous duties for “Cor Unum” he frequently travelled to those places where the Church’s aid was most needed. In the photo below he is seen visiting the Philippines after Typhoon Yolanda hit last year. The upcoming papal visit, by the way, was in part inspired by the same disaster.
Cardinal Sarah’s name was not among those most frequently mentioned for the CDW top spot. Many were the fears that the position would go to Archbishop Piero Marini, erstwhile MC for St. John Paul II and the first years of Benedict XVI and generally considered rather a liberal. It just goes to show that the eyes and focus of Pope Francis are elsewhere, on the world’s peripheries, and the young and growing Church of Africa may yet harbour more surprises.