Among those that Pope Francis will bring into his inner circle this month is a Fordham-educated archbishop and veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps who has spent much of his career working on migration issues.

On Nov. 28, Silvano Maria Tomasi, C.S., and 12 others will join the College of Cardinals, a group of principal assistants and advisers to the pope. Pope Francis recently gave the archbishop another role as well: On Nov. 1, he named Tomasi his special delegate to the Sovereign Order of Malta, a lay religious order doing service work in 120 countries.

Archbishop Tomasi, 80, and three other cardinals-elect are above the cutoff age for taking part in the conclave that selects the next pope, the Vatican noted in its Oct. 25 announcement. Only cardinals younger than 80 can participate.

The archbishop is a “missionary scholar true to his order’s charism to work with immigrants,” said Gerald Cattaro, Ed.D., executive director of Fordham’s Center for Catholic School Leadership, who most recently saw Tomasi in Rome in December 2019 at a meeting of NGOs associated with the Holy See.

Archbishop Tomasi belongs to the Scalabrinian order, devoted to serving migrants and refugees. A naturalized American citizen, he earned his doctorate in sociology from Fordham in 1972, and is a co-founder of the Center for Migration Studies of New York, which has collaborated with Fordham on migration studies in the past.

He originally came from Italy to the U.S. to work among Italian immigrants, “and never forgot his call to work with those on the periphery,” Cattaro said. “His life’s work has been on behalf of the marginalized, in particular immigrants and refugees. That is, perhaps, why I believe [Pope Francis] chose to honor him with the ‘red hat,’” Cattaro said, referring to a cardinal’s traditional headpiece.

In the 1980s, Tomasi served as the first director of the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has held high-level Vatican posts including secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.

From 2003 to 2016, he served as permanent observer of the Holy See to the U.N. in Geneva. He has worked on human rights issues and also led the Vatican’s efforts toward nuclear arms control in recent years.

A Friend to Fordham

Archbishop Tomasi has helped Fordham build closer ties with the Mission of the Holy See to the U.N. and create opportunities for students in the International Political Economy and Development (IPED) program, such as serving the mission as diplomatic fellows at the U.N. in New York, said the program’s director, Henry Schwalbenberg, Ph.D.

Also, interest in Tomasi’s work at the U.N. contributed to IPED founding its annual Pope Francis Global Poverty Index in response to the pope’s call for a broad but simple measure of global poverty and well-being, Schwalbenberg said.

He said he thinks Tomasi’s appointment reflects the pope’s concern with the suffering of migrants. In public statements, Francis has sounded the alarm about the urgent needs of people being displaced around the world.

“Situations of conflict and humanitarian emergencies, aggravated by climate change, are  increasing the numbers of displaced persons and affecting people already living in a state of dire poverty,” he said in a January address to members of the diplomatic corps accredited by the Holy See. “Many of the countries experiencing these situations lack adequate structures for meeting the needs of the displaced.”

In his message for the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees in September, he noted the new troubles brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The precariousness that we have come to experience as a result of this pandemic is a constant in the lives of displaced people,” he said.


Chris Gosier is research news director for Fordham Now. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].