Spanish cardinal-designate Ángel Fernández Artime, the worldwide superior of the Salesians of Don Bosco, is not (yet) a bishop.
Among the future cardinals to be created on September 30, 2023, Pope Francis has named a long-time acquaintance from Buenos Aires. He’s a Spanish religious priest named Ángel Fernández Artime, Don Bosco‘s 10th successor as major rector of the Salesians.
Fr. Fernández is the first superior of a congregation to be appointed a cardinal during his tenure. With his arrival, the number of Salesians in the College of Cardinals will rise to 10.
“I thought there had been a mistake,” he admitted on hearing the news of his appointment on July 9 from among the 18 cardinal electors even though he’s not even a bishop. When Pope Francis received him in an audience on July 11, he said to the Pontiff, “Holy Father, what have you done to me?”
In agreement with the Pontiff, he will remain in office for another year after his creation as a cardinal. He will officially resign from the congregation’s government on July 31, 2024, as he explained in a letter to the Salesians.
Years of experience as a Salesian superior
Ángel Fernández Artime, 63, was born into a fishing family in Gozón-Luanco, Spain, on August 21, 1960. He made his perpetual vows on June 17, 1984 as a member of the Salesian congregation in Santiago de Compostela. Three years later he was ordained a priest on July 4, 1987 in the Diocese of León. In the course of his ministry, he has served as provincial delegate for youth ministry, vice provincial, and provincial superior for the Salesians.
In 2009, he was appointed superior of the Southern Argentina province, based in Buenos Aires. As such, he collaborated with the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, according to the Salesians’ website.
Then on December 23, 2013, he was appointed superior of the new province of Mediterranean Spain. However, he didn’t get the opportunity to exercise this role. Just a few months later, on March 25, 2014, the General Chapter elected him rector major of the congregation. He was reconfirmed in this responsibility for a second sexennium on March 11, 2020. During his tenure, he has visited 118 countries to date.
Closeness to Pope Francis
In his approach to pastoral matters, Fr. Ángel is close to Pope Francis. Passionate about education as a son of Don Bosco, he is particularly concerned about young prisoners. Accompanying young people through life “is in my DNA, and wherever I go and whatever I’m asked to do, the emphasis will always be on young people, education, the most vulnerable,” he said.
In an interview in 2018, he spoke out against anti-migration policies as “inhumane.” He renewed this position after his naming in 2023, opposing a perspective that sees immigration as a security threat, arguing that “another person is not a danger.” Regarding the war in Ukraine, too, he has supported Pope Francis’ line.
In recent years, with Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime at their head, the Salesians have grown closer to the Vatican, notably by signing a partnership with the Dicastery for Communication in 2017.
On the eve of the feast of St. John Bosco, during the Angelus on January 30, 2022, Pope Francis shared that he had prayed for all the members of the Salesian family by following from a distance the mass celebrated in Turin by Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime at the shrine of Mary Help of Christians. He paid tribute to these religious “who do so much good in the Church” all over the world. His decision to include the rector major in the college of cardinals was hailed as a recognition of the congregation’s work.