A Guatemalan bishop who is one of 13 cardinals-designate named this week by Pope Francis has strong ties to the Diocese of Wilmington and is recalled locally as a man of the people who goes above and beyond for his flock.
Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, 72, is the former bishop of the Diocese of San Marcos and was an integral part of a partnership forged with the Wilmington diocese during the episcopate of Bishop Michael Saltarelli.
The cardinal-designate has made numerous visits to the diocese here, checking on family members and others from his diocese who migrated to southern Delaware. He has enlisted local residents to help remedy the severe poverty that plagues everyday life in the rural and mountainous regions of Guatemala.
Bishop Malooly praised the choice of Bishop Ramazzini.
“I join our brothers and sisters from San Marcos, Guatemala in expressing my joy and congratulations to Cardinal-designate Alvaro Ramazzini on the announcement that Pope Francis will elevate Bishop Ramazzini to the College of Cardinals next month,” Bishop Malooly said. “Bishop Ramazzini visited the Diocese of Wilmington many times when he was Bishop of San Marcos, and was instrumental in forging a friendship with the people of our diocese that led to a strong, enduring Solidarity Partnership between our two dioceses. Bishop Ramazzini is a tireless worker for the rights of the poor and oppressed, and this is a very well-deserved honor.”
Bishop Ramazzini has many admirers in the Wilmington diocese.
“Those of us who know him were exhilarated,” said Father John Hynes, pastor of St. Catherine Siena in Wilmington. “He’s a marvelous man, very personable.”
Father Hynes and others have led delegations to Guatemala. Each year, members of the local Global Solidarity Program delegations to San Marcos report being deeply affected by seeing the deprivations the Guatemalans face, but also say they are most moved by experiencing the friendliness, happiness and deep faith life of the people there. Those visits have produced a number of projects to assist the Guatemalans in their home country both materially, such as through projects to bring water to towns and support church-sponsored medical programs in rural San Marcos, and spiritually, as through support of catechist training.
Much of the credit for rallying help for the impoverished goes to Cardinal-designate Ramazzini, Father Hynes said.
“He visits his people constantly. He stands up for people’s rights beyond religious responsibilities,” said Father Hynes. He has helped people purchase their own land in coffee plantations, fought against the use of acid, a long-term pollutant used in gold mining, and stood against wealthy interests that went as far as to threaten the bishop’s life.
Father Hynes said he wouldn’t have expected the appointment, but it made sense the more he thought about the sentiments of Pope Francis.
“It reinforces his emphasis on the church of the poor. The pope has talked about the church’s mission to reach out to the peripheries. (The cardinal-designate) is kind of a model pastor. He resembles bishops who have been persecuted in the past.”
After the consistory to create new cardinals in early October, Pope Francis will have chosen more than half of the men who will enter the Sistine Chapel to elect his successor.
Ten of the prelates he chose are under the age of 80 and, therefore, would be eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a pope. A cardinal who has turned 80 before the papacy is vacant participates in pre-conclave meetings to discuss the needs of the church but does not process into the Sistine Chapel and does not cast ballots for a new pope.
Barring any deaths or resignations, once the new cardinals receive their red hats in early October, the College of Cardinals will have 128 members eligible to vote in a conclave. Within 10 days of the consistory, four cardinals will celebrate their 80th birthdays, leaving 124 electors.
Of those 124, Pope Francis will have made 66 of them cardinals, which is 53 percent of the electors. The other electors will include 16 cardinals created by St. John Paul II and 42 made cardinals by now-retired Pope Benedict XVI.
In selecting cardinals, Pope Francis has made it a point to increase the geographical profile of the College of Cardinals. The conclave that elected him included participants from 48 nations; the 128 electors in the expanded college will include prelates from 68 countries.
(Catholic News Service contributed to this report).