By Hannah Brockhaus (CNA)

Italian Cardinals Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Città della Pieve (left) and Matteo Zuppi of Bologna. Zuppi has been chosen the president of the Italian bishops’ conference, succeeding Cardinal Bassetti (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis has chosen P Cardinal Matteo Zuppi as the next president of the Italian bishops’ conference following a vote on Tuesday.

Zuppi, 66, has a reputation as the “bicycling cardinal” for his propensity to cycle around the northern Italian city of Bologna, which he has led as archbishop since 2015.

He also has strong ties to the influential Sant’Egidio Community.

The cardinal was chosen to lead the Episcopal Conference of Italy (CEI) during the group’s 76th general assembly, taking place in Rome on May 23-27.

Pope Francis had previously asked the Italian bishops to adopt a new statute that would allow them to elect the president themselves, but the bishops preferred to leave the choice to the Pope, who as Bishop of Rome is also the Primate of Italy. Under a compromise arrangement, the bishops presented a list of the three candidates with the most votes to the pope, who could then choose between the three or opt for a different candidate. Zuppi succeeds 80year-old Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, who led the bishops’ conference for a five-year term beginning in 2017.

Pope Francis made Zuppi a cardinal in 2019.

For years, the Rome native has been listed among the “papabili” — possible future Popes — but has made light of the speculation.

Before being transferred to Bologna, Zuppi was an auxiliary bishop of Rome for three years. He was responsible for the city’s historic center area, which includes the Trastevere neighborhood, where the headquarters of the Sant’Egidio Community is located.

Sant’Egidio is a Catholic lay association that aids migrants and promotes ecumenism. It has also helped negotiate reconciliation, including by holding peace talks in countries like Mozambique and South Sudan.

Zuppi Election: A “Signal” to the Pope?

By Andrea Gagliarducci (CNA)

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi’s election as president of the Episcopal Conference of Italy is, at one level, unsurprising. For at least two years, he was spoken of as a frontrunner to succeed outgoing president Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti. And everyone pointed to Cardinal Zuppi as the only figure who could lead the bishops’ conference in the direction desired by Pope Francis. Yet, on another level, the appointment was somewhat unexpected.

Some bishops, who asked to remain anonymous given that the ballot took place in secret, suggested that the Pope was “forced” to select Cardinal Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna, because he received the most votes among the three candidates sent to him for a final decision. It was evident, they said, that the Pope would have preferred Cardinal Paolo Lojudice of Siena, who, they indicated, would be appointed as the new vicar of Rome.

Shortly before the latest election, Pope Francis said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he preferred that the next president was a cardinal. After this, the three candidates were narrowed down to Cardinal Zuppi, Cardinal Lojudice, and Bishop Antonino Raspanti of Acireale, Sicily.

Cardinal Zuppi received by far the most votes from his brother bishops and Pope Francis had to take this into account. Rumors had previously suggested that the Pope was wary of the great publicity that surrounds the “papabile” Cardinal Zuppi and was leaning toward a different candidate. The Pope was also said to have been negatively surprised when Cardinal Zuppi applied the motu proprio Traditionis custodes in the Bologna archdiocese in a benevolent way.

The rumors that constantly circulate in the Vatican, aiming to scuttle or promote candidates, have always carried a lot of weight. Those cited are, in any case, sensitive issues for the Pope.

“The bishops were courageous in voting for Cardinal Zuppi and giving a signal to the Pope,” a participant in the Italian bishops’ assembly told CNA.

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