Pope creates 17 cardinals, 'Princes of the Church'

Pope Francis speaks as he leads a consistory ceremony to install 17 new cardinals in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Nov 19, 2016.
Pope Francis speaks as he leads a consistory ceremony to install 17 new cardinals in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Nov 19, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Francis created 17 new cardinals from across the globe Saturday (Nov 19), elevating them in a time-honoured ceremony to an elite body that advises and elects popes.

Three of them are from the US, while others come from corners of the world where the Catholic Church needs a boost.

Dressed in red robes, the "princes of the Church" knelt before the pontiff to pledge their allegiance in a solemn ceremony.

Thirteen of them are under 80 and therefore eligible to take part in the next secret conclave to elect or become the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. They are known as cardinal electors.

History's first Latin American pope is famed for wanting to reach out to far-flung dioceses often overlooked by Rome and he has shunned European candidates almost entirely, favouring low-key, pastoral figures or men he knows.

The cardinal electors come from Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Central African Republic, Italy, Mauritius, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Spain, the United States and Venezuela.

Francis warned them against falling victim to a "growing animosity" between people, including within the Church, in a possible reference to divisions within the hierarchy over Francis's bid for a more open, forgiving Church.

He also urged them to fight growing xenophobia in the world and protect those such as refugees, who are often classed as enemies.

"How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us! Yes, between us, within our communities, our priests, our meetings," he said.

"We come from distant lands; we have different traditions, skin colour, languages and social backgrounds; we think differently and we celebrate our faith in a variety of rites. None of this makes us enemies; instead, it is one of our greatest riches," he said.

The pope gave each man a three-cornered red hat, telling them that the colour symbolises "your readiness to act with courage, even to the shedding of your blood" for the Catholic Church.

They were also handed a gold ring of their high office.

The new cardinals were to head to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery inside the Vatican to visit retired pope Benedict XVI.

The unexpected pick of three Americans reverses a trend that saw Francis pass over US candidates in his first two consistories.

By choosing archbishops Blase Cupich of Chicago, Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis and Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Francis has "engineered what may prove to be a seismic shift in the Catholic hierarchy in the United States," wrote expert John Allen on the US Catholic website Crux.

The three, from the Church's "progressive wing", may help counterbalance a strong conservative presence among US cardinals, particularly at a moment when the authority of reform-minded Francis is being challenged by US-led traditionalists.

The youngest of the new cardinals is 49-year old Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the archbishop of Bangui, who organised the pope's 2015 visit to Central African Republic, where Francis opened the first "Holy Door" outside of Rome.

Some come from areas where Catholics are a distinct minority: Patrick D'Rozario of Bangladesh comes from a country where Christians represent just 0.03 per cent of the total population, and only fifty percent of those are Catholics.

The sole Italian cardinal-elect is Mario Zenari, who is currently the papal envoy to Syria.

Among the four "red hats" over 80, who are given the title for service to the Church, is Albanian priest Ernest Simoni, who reduced Francis to tears in 2014 when he recounted the two decades he spent imprisoned for his faith during Albania's brutal communist rule.

Another of the over 80s, Sebastian Khoarai from Lesotho, was not present because of ill health.

Francis has now named 44 cardinal electors, just over a third of the total of 120 allowed by Church law.