This small European country's cardinals represent various generations and focuses within the Church.
From August 2 – 6, 2023, Pope Francis will visit Portugal for the WYD in Lisbon. This is the first time that this European country will host a World Youth Day, which may bring together as many as a million young people. Portugal, where almost 80% of the population identify themselves as Catholic, will soon have 4 cardinal electors. The Pope announced on July 9 that Bishop Alves Aguiar, auxiliary bishop of Lisbon, would be created a cardinal on September 30 alongside 20 other prelates.
The small European country, with a population of just 10 million, is thus becoming one of the best represented in the world in the College of Cardinals, which is responsible for electing the Pope.
Portugal also has two cardinals emeritus. A close friend of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints from 1998 to 2008 and a historic figure at the Pontifical Urban University, is now 91. Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro is 85. A former apostolic nuncio, he was named the “number 2” of the Congregation for Bishops in 2009. Benedict XVI entrusted him with the office of major penitentiary of the Catholic Church in 2012 and created him a cardinal in the process.
Américo Aguiar, the surprise of the consistory
With the announcement of the cardinalate of Bishop Américo Aguiar, the archdiocese of Lisbon has two cardinal electors, a unique situation in the Church today. At 49, the young auxiliary bishop of Lisbon is president of the WYD Lisbon 2023 Foundation, the body that is organizing the worldwide youth meeting with the Pope in August. In Portugal, he has already become the media face of the WYD.
Most recently, his name appeared in the press and on social networks for remarks deemed controversial made during an interview with Portuguese media RTP on preparations for the WYD. “We don’t want to convert young people to Christ or to the Catholic Church,” he said, to the astonishment of some Catholics. In the interview, Bishop Américo Aguiar explained that young people of all denominations were invited to WYD, as had been the case on previous occasions.
Acknowledging that this statement taken out of context could give rise to “perplexity,” he later explained to the American media outlet The Pillar that he didn’t “see WYD as an opportunity for active proselytism,” but that “the goal is that each person, after going home, might feel called to conversion, […] marked by the experience of having met these young people who want to bear witness to the living Christ.”
Having entered the seminary in 1995, Américo Aguiar had previously been a municipal councilor for a small town in the Porto region, affiliated with the Socialist Party. Ordained a priest in 2001 for the Diocese of Porto, he then served as parish priest of the cathedral, vice-rector of the diocesan sanctuary of Santa Rita, and president of the Confraternity of Priests.
He was also vicar general and head of the cabinet of the Bishop of Porto from 2004 to 2015. At the level of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, he was director of the national secretariat for social communications from 2016 to 2019.
Pope Francis appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Lisbon on March 1, 2019. The announcement of his cardinalate in 2023, on the eve of World Youth Day in Lisbon, underlines the good personal relationship the young bishop has built up with the Argentine pontiff. For the time being, the future of Cardinal Américo Aguiar remains unclear. Some see him replacing Cardinal Manuel Clemente as head of the Lisbon Patriarchate, while others imagine him joining the Roman Curia.
Manuel Clemente, a patriarch on the move
Cardinal Manuel Clemente, who has been the leader of the Portuguese episcopate for over 10 years, turns 75 next Sunday. Upon reaching that age, he’s due to step down as Archbishop of Lisbon. Born in the Portuguese capital in 1948, Manuel Clemente discovered his vocation at the age of 13, but his parents objected and asked him to continue his studies.
After studying law and history, he finally answered the call to become a priest and entered the seminary “at a time when everyone was leaving” (in his own words). He was then 25 years old. There, he stood out for his excellent knowledge of Church history and a deep interest in the major currents in society.
In 1979, he was ordained a priest and became a parish priest in his native Torres Vedras, quickly joining the formation team at his former seminary. In 1989, he became its vice-rector, obtaining his doctorate in theology three years later. Until 2007, he was involved in numerous university research projects, although his pastoral mission took a major leap with his appointment in 1999 as Auxiliary Bishop of Lisbon by Pope John Paul II.
As a bishop, he was appreciated for his jovial personality and great communication skills, regularly appearing in secular media and developing the Church’s use of social media. Under Cardinal Policarpo, he was also the driving force behind his diocese’s organization of International Congresses for the New Evangelization, notably the one held in Lisbon in 2005.
In 2007, Benedict XVI entrusted him with the diocese of Porto, the country’s second-largest city. Shortly after the 2013 conclave, he was chosen by Pope Francis to become Patriarch of Lisbon. After serving as vice-president for two years, he was elected president of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference the same year, a position he would hold until 2020.
In 2015, Pope Francis elevated him to the cardinal’s purple. As patriarch of Lisbon, he will welcome the Argentine pontiff to the WYD in his diocese. It will be a moment of joy and celebration for the Portuguese Church, marked by recent revelations of sexual abuse within its ranks.
In early 2023, an independent commission, which the Church had charged with investigating the history of sexual abuse of minors by priests since 1950, published its report. It concluded that at least 4,815 minors had been sexually abused over the years. A year earlier, Cardinal Clemente had said he was ready to “acknowledge the errors of the past” and “ask forgiveness” from the victims.
Taking stock of his ten years at the head of the Diocese of Lisbon, he admitted at the end of the Easter 2023 celebrations that this period of truth-telling about abuse was the most difficult of his patriarchate, and assured those who had suffered of his support.
During these years, he also worked to encourage reflection on the decriminalization of euthanasia in Portugal. Despite the mobilization of the Church, a law decriminalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide was promulgated last May.
José Tolentino Mendonça, a poet in the Church
José Tolentino Mendonça is probably one of the most original profiles in the College of Cardinals. Appointed Prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education in 2022, the 57-year-old cardinal is an intellectual who is much appreciated and admired in his country, not least for his extensive poetic and philosophical work. He is internationally renowned for his work as a biblical scholar, and a great reader of secular literature — Herberto Helder, Fernando Pessoa, Etty Hillesum, Flannery O’Connor, Cristina Campo and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
He’s particularly attentive to the pastoral care of artists and the development of Christian culture. He has published some fifty books, literary and religious essays, and plays, some of which have been translated into many languages.
The fourth son of a fishing family on the island of Madeira, his father’s work took the family to live in Angola for a few years. They were forced to leave the Portuguese colony in 1974 due to revolutionary upheavals. He joined the minor seminary in Madeira at the age of 11, where he discovered the world of books thanks to the school library. He explains that insularity was one of the decisive factors in his literary awakening at the age of 16, when he discovered this dimension in the work of the great Madeiran poet Helberto Helder. He considers Helder a “saint” and his first master of poetry.
Ordained a priest in 1990, he began his ministry in the parish of Our Lady of Livramento in Funchal from 1992 to 1995. He then became chaplain at the Catholic University of Portugal in Lisbon, where he taught and pursued his training at the same time as taking charge of a parish. In 2004, he obtained his doctorate in biblical theology from the UCP in Lisbon, with a thesis on the Gospel according to Saint Luke, and became a professor there.
In 2009, he met Benedict XVI at a gathering of artists at the Vatican. Two years later, the German pontiff appointed him to the Pontifical Council for Culture. In 2016, Francis renewed his appointment for a further five years. Proof of the Argentine pontiff’s confidence in him is the fact that in 2018 he preached the Curia’s spiritual exercises during Lent. On the following June 26 he was entrusted with the keys to the pope’s precious library.
Now archivist of the Vatican Secret Archive and librarian of the Apostolic Library, Fr. Mendonça was consecrated bishop on July 18, 2018. He was created a cardinal the following year, in 2019. “Holy Father, what have you done to me?” he reportedly asked the South American pope. “Remember that you are poetry,” Francis reportedly replied.
In 2021, the Vatican archivist joined the Dominican family, with which he had enjoyed an important relationship for many years, by becoming a tertiary. In September 2022, after four years at the head of the Apostolic Library, the Pope entrusted him with a new dicastery, created by the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, the Dicastery for Culture and Education.
Antonio Marto, former bishop of Leiria-Fátima
Antonio Marto was born in Tronco, a small village in northern Portugal. He grew up in a devout and humble Catholic family. It was the example of his parish priest that inspired him to become a priest. He joined the seminary in Vila Real and then in Porto. In 1971, he was ordained in Rome, where he continued his studies in systematic theology at the Gregorian University. In 1977, he presented his thesis on Christian hope and the future of man in the eschatological doctrine of the Second Vatican Council. He then returned to Portugal, teaching at the university and seminary in Porto.
Establishing himself as a renowned theologian, he joined the European Association of Catholic Theologians, and collaborated with prestigious journals such as Communio and Theologica. During these years, he also carried out pastoral work in a Porto parish. He also worked on a catechism for members of his diocese with the then auxiliary bishop Manuel Pelino Domingues.
In 2001, he became auxiliary bishop of Braga, and three years later was transferred to head the diocese of Viseu. He took part in the Synod on the New Evangelization in 2005. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI entrusted him with the prestigious diocese of Leiria-Fátima, home to the great Marian shrine of Our Lady of Fátima. Although he had reservations about this popular place of piety, he eventually became attached to his new mission, bearing witness to his “conversion.”
In his diocese, he is committed to vocations, affirming that beauty and joy are at the heart of these commitments. In 2010, he was in charge of the German pope’s apostolic journey to Portugal. Seven years later, he received Pope Francis’ visit to his diocese for the centenary of the Fátima apparitions. On that occasion the pope canonized Jacinta and Francisco, the two shepherds (with whom, by pure chance, he shares a last name) who reported their vision of the Blessed Virgin.
In 2018, Pope Francis created him a cardinal. His appointment came as a surprise, because he was the first Portuguese cardinal in over a century who was not either the Patriarch of Lisbon or a member of the Curia. Cardinal Marto presents himself as a “supporter” of Pope Francis in his reforms. He is strongly committed to social issues, denouncing growing inequalities.
In 2020, he was hospitalized for seven weeks for health problems that turned out to be linked not to the pandemic but to a liver infection. Pope Francis accepted his resignation in 2022, the year he turned 74. This summer, the Argentine Pope will return to his diocese to pray at the Marian shrine of Fátima during the World Youth Day in Lisbon.