By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Cardinal-designate Giovanni Angelo Becciu is one of the very few new cardinals not completely surprised in late May when Pope Francis announced the names of the 14 churchmen he intended to induct into the College of Cardinals.
The pope, who keeps the nominations secret even from most of the people on the list, justified making an exception for then-Archbishop Becciu by noting that the two of them see each other almost every day, the cardinal-designate told Avvenire, the Italian Catholic newspaper. But Pope Francis did not tell him what day the announcement would come.
A week after the pope publicly read the names, the Vatican announced Pope Francis had appointed the Sardiniancardinal-designate to be the next prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, succeeding Cardinal Angelo Amato, who turns 80 in early June.
After he receives his red hat June 28, the new cardinal will cease his service as substitute secretary of state, a position similar to a chief of staff and the reason why he meets the pope almost every day, the Vatican announced May 26. He will take up his post at the congregation overseeing sainthood processes at the end of August.
At the same time, the Vatican said, he will continue to serve as Pope Francis’ special delegate to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a major fraternal and charitable organization that is undergoing reorganization after tensions within its leadership.
Cardinal-designate Becciu, who turns 70 June 2, is a proud Sardinian from the little town of Pattada, which is famed for its hand-crafted switchblades known as “resolza.” Sardinia, home to large families in the 1960s, now has Italy’s lowest birthrate and, like many parts of Sardinia, Pattada’s population is declining as young people leave in search of work.
The cardinal-designate told the local newspaper, La Nuova Sardegna, he believed decades of government policies that ignored the needs of families and failed to inspire creative, young entrepreneurs are to blame. “If the young people of our region don’t find some stability and are forced to move away, how can they form families and have children?”
After Pope Francis announced the cardinals’ names, church bells rang across Pattada. The cardinal-designate told the newspaper, “I think this nomination was interpreted correctly not as a recognition of me and of individual merit, but as an honor given to all of Sardinia, and I’m proud of that.”
Born June 2, 1948, he entered the regional seminary of Sardinia in Cuglieri and moved with the seminary to Cagliari. He was ordained to the priesthood Aug. 27, 1972, and incardinated in the Sardinian Diocese of Ozieri.
After ordination, he spent eight years ministering in the diocese, including a period as vice rector of the Ozieri seminary. Invited to join the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the school for Vatican diplomats, he earned a degree in canon law in Rome and entered the Vatican diplomatic service in 1984, serving at Vatican embassies and offices in the Central African Republic, Sudan, New Zealand, Liberia, Great Britain, France and, finally, the United States.
In 2001, St. John Paul II named him an archbishop and apostolic nuncio to Angola and to Sao Tome and Principe.
The bishop of Ozieri at the time, Bishop Sebastiano Sanguinetti, described “‘Don Angelino,’ as we affectionately call him,” as being at ease with all sorts of people and as having an “authentic priestly spirit.”
“His long pilgrimage to various parts of the world, though, never distanced him from his homeland and his church of origin,” the bishop told La Nuova Sardegna. He continued his friendship with other priests of the diocese and would return home when possible.
Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 named him nuncio to Cuba, a position he held until 2011 when he asked then-Archbishop Becciu to assume the No. 3 position in the Vatican Secretariat of State.