Pope Francis has again surprised and shaken up the Italian church by appointing as archbishops of Bologna and Palermo two pastors that have “the smell of the sheep.”
He has named Matteo Zuppi, an auxiliary bishop of Rome, to succeed Cardinal Carlo Caffarra as archbishop of Bologna, and he has catapulted Father Corrado Lorefice, 53, from being a parish priest in the diocese of Noto in Sicily to succeed Cardinal Paolo Romeo as archbishop of Palermo. Both cardinals were past the age of retirement.
The two new archbishops are humble, prayerful men, known respectively for their work for the poor, the outcast and those in difficulty (Zuppi) and those trapped in prostitution and migrants (Lorefice). They are not careerists, and are known to be ever open to those in need.
Archbishop-elect Zuppi, 59, popularly known is Rome as “Don Matteo,” was the first priest to be ordained from the Sant’ Egidio community which he joined as a high school student. A very friendly and kind man, he is known and loved by the poor, the outcasts, the gypsies, the abandoned old people and young people across Rome; he has spent his life serving them. He holds degrees in theology from the Lateran University in Rome and in Philosophy and Letters from Rome University.
He served in Roman parishes for 29 years, and as assistant and then parish priest (2000-2010) at the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere (the first church to Mary in the Western world). During that time he played a key role in helping broker peace to end the civil war in Mozambique and he also worked to end conflicts in Burundi and other places. In 2010 he was assigned to a parish on the periphery of Rome marked by poverty, crime and drug abuse, and served there until 2012 when Pope Benedict XVI nominated him as one of the auxiliary bishops of Rome. Archbishop-elect Zuppi has always been close to the priests of the diocese, first as a priest and then during his three years ministry as bishop. He’s often seen riding a bike through the sometimes chaotic Roman traffic, and now he’s sure to find it easier to do that in Bologna.
The new archbishop of Palermo, Father Corrado Lorefice, 52, on the other hand, is not well known in Italy, though he has spent 25 years on the frontline in the fight against human trafficking, and in particular against prostitution in Sicily. He has also given much help and support to the migrants, many of whom are exploited, too, and will now be in a better position to do more on both fronts.
Ordained at the age of 24, he holds a doctorate in theology and taught moral theology for several years on the island, while also doing parochial work. Since 2010 he has served as parish priest until his appointment today.
Over the years Lorefice has written several books, included ones on Don Pino Pugliese, the priest assassinated by the Mafia in Palermo, and on the Second Vatican Council. Much loved by the priests and young people in the diocese of Noto, he now enters the archdiocese where Don Pugliese once worked and where the challenges are not lacking.
These latest two appointments are part of Pope Francis’ ongoing effort to reform the Italian church. Not long ago, in another surprise move, he chose a parish priest from Mantova, Father Claudio Cipolla, and appointed him to the diocese of Padova—the fourth largest in Italy. He began the reform at the end of 2013 by appointing a new Secretary General of the Italian Bishops Conference, Bishop Galantino. Then breaking with tradition and the career path in his first two consistories, Francis gave red hats to three bishops not in traditional cardinalatial sees, bypassing those expecting it in Venice and Turin. This reform is ongoing, like that in the Roman Curia.