VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Francis said on Sunday (Oct 9) he would appoint 17 new cardinals from across the world next month, 13 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to succeed him.
Cardinals, known as the "princes of the church", who are under 80 are eligible to vote in the papal conclave that picks the next pope.
"I am happy to announce that on Saturday, Nov 19... I will hold a meeting of cardinals to nominate the 13 new cardinals from the five continents," said Francis.
"The fact they are from 11 countries shows the universality of the church," said the Argentine pontiff.
Heading up the list of new cardinals is Mario Zenari who is currently the papal envoy to Syria - a "martyred" country, according to the pope.
Second on the list was Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the archbishop of Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, who is the youngest of the 13 new cardinals aged just 49. He met the pope when Francis visited CAR at the end of 2015, a trip he was instrumental in organising.
Among the other senior church leaders from developing countries being promoted to cardinal are Sergio da Rocha, archbishop of Brasilia, Patrick D'Rozario, archbishop of Dhaka, Baltazar Porras Cardozo, archbishop of Merida in Venezuela and Maurice Piat, the bishop of Port-Louis in Mauritius.
Three of the 13 who will have conclave voting rights are from Europe, three from Latin America, three from the US and two each from Africa and Asia.
And in a rare move, 87-year-old Albanian Ernest Simoni has been elevated to the position of cardinal from parish priest.
He was imprisoned by Albania's communist regime in 1963 and sentenced to death, although that was later commuted to 25 years forced labour, according to a Vatican profile. He spent a total of 18 years imprisoned.
In February 2015 Pope Francois created 20 new cardinals, greatly accelerating the internationalisation of the church in which European cardinals are no longer in the majority.