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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Mali’s first cardinal said to foster regional peace, understanding

Cardinal-elect Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, the first from the western Africa nation, will use his position to ease the multiple crises facing sub-Saharan regions, an aide said, despite new media accusations linking him to a financial scandal.

Theodore Togo, secretary-general of Caritas Mali, said Cardinal-elect Zerbo’s success in building interfaith relations and helping ease tensions between the government and rebel forces has been positive for the nation of 17 million.

Cardinal-elect Zerbo was to receive his red hat at consistory at the Vatican on 28th June.

Togo said the appointment of Mali’s first cardinal on 21st May had been “joyfully received” as an opportunity for the Church to be “more effective and dynamic in its daily mission,” and for the new cardinal to step up his long-standing “engagement in national reconstruction and reconciliation.”

News of the appointment was marred on 31st May by reports in French media accusing the 73-year-old cardinal-elect of holding secret bank accounts in Switzerland.

It was reported that seven accounts, opened by Mali’s Catholic bishops’ conference with the British-based HSBC bank in 2002, had been credited with £10.4 million in 2007. The deposits, revealed by a journalists’ consortium, Swiss Leaks, had formed a “vast system of fiscal evasion,” and were linked to Cardinal-elect Zerbo and Bishop Jean-Gabriel Diarra of San, it was reported.

The Malian bishops’ conference on 1st June rejected claims that the Church leaders had “diverted funds from the Catholic faithful” and said that church money was controlled by an inter-diocesan commission established in 1988 to coordinate pastoral, charitable and catechetical work, and was used “with total transparency.”

Picture: Cardinal-designate Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, greets visitors in Bamako on 25th May. He will be among five new cardinals to be created by Pope Francis at a 28th June Vatican consistory. (CNS photo/Nicolas Remene, EPA).