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Colleen DulleJune 23, 2023
Pope Francis greets Msgr. Frank Leo Jr., general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, during a meeting with representatives of the conference at the Vatican Dec. 6. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Since February, Pope Francis has appointed four men under age 60 to lead major archdioceses around the world, in what have widely been viewed as efforts to shore up his legacy.

The latest appointment came on June 22, when Pope Francis named 54-year-old Father Luc Terlinden the next archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, succeeding the 76-year-old Cardinal Jozef de Kesel. Father Terlinden is experienced in youth ministry and in leading seminaries, and his parishioners describe him as a “unifier,” “attentive” and “anxious to underline the traces of hope” in a dwindling Belgian church.

Archbishop-elect Terlinden is known for being a pastor in the style of Pope Francis. As a nod to the pope, he chose “Fratelli Tutti,” the title of the pope’s encyclical on human fraternity, as his episcopal motto. He will assume office in early September.

In February, the Vatican announced that then-bishop Frank Leo, 51, would be the next archbishop of Toronto, succeeding the retiring 76-year-old Cardinal Thomas Collins. Archbishop Leo officially assumed his post on March 25. He previously served as an auxiliary bishop in Montreal and speaks French, English, Italian and Spanish. Archbishop Leo is known for having a global outlook, having trained as a Vatican diplomat and served as a nuncio, or papal ambassador, to Australia. Like Pope Francis, he is the son of Italian immigrants to the Americas.

Since February, Pope Francis has appointed four men under age 60 to lead major archdioceses around the world, in what have widely been viewed as efforts to shore up his legacy.

In a letter before he assumed office in March, then-bishop Leo made a point of introducing himself not only to Toronto’s Catholics but “to those who are more distant [from the church] or struggle to choose her as their spiritual home.”

In May, Pope Francis appointed 55-year-old Bishop Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva as the incoming archbishop of the pope’s home diocese of Buenos Aires. He is known for being a “bishop of the peripheries,” serving in prisons and slums, most recently in the remote southern Argentine diocese of Río Gallegos.

The following month, on June 12, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had named Bishop José Cobo Cano, 57, as the next archbishop of Madrid. He will assume the position on July 8, when his predecessor, the 78-year-old Cardinal Carlos Osoro, retires.

He has been described in Spanish media as a “progressive” and a favorite of Pope Francis, but as somewhat of an outsider in his own diocese: Although the last five archbishops of Madrid led other archdioceses before taking the helm in the Spanish capital, Bishop Cobo Cano has never led a diocese and has only been an auxiliary bishop in Madrid for five years.

Although there is no guarantee that these relatively young bishops will lead their archdioceses for a long time, it is unusual for a bishop to be moved from leading a larger diocese to leading a smaller one, so these bishops are likely to have long careers in their new appointments. In that sense, Pope Francis is ensuring that bishops who support his vision for the church will be serving the church as top leaders long after the Francis papacy ends.

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