Fifteen prelates from around the world joined the elite College of Cardinals in the Vatican today, becoming the newest advisers to the Pope who one day will be called on to elect his successor.
The beaming new “princes” of the church processed onto the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica to applause from a crowd of thousands in the square below, decked out for the first time in their crimson robes.
Pope Benedict XVI opened the ceremony, known as a consistory, by reading out each of the new cardinals’ names in Latin, drawing applause after he pronounced each one.
Their ranks included Hong Kong’s bishop Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of China; Pope John Paul II’s long-time private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz; and the Vatican’s new chief doctrinal watchdog, Archbishop William Levada.
Security was tight around the square, with uniformed and plainclothes police ringing the area.
During the ceremony, Benedict will give each man his “biretta” or three-cornered hat whose red colour symbolises not only the dignity of the office, but the cardinal’s willingness to shed blood to promote Christianity. The new cardinals will get their rings during a Mass on Saturday in St. Peter’s Square.
Benedict announced on February 22 that he was naming the new cardinals, 12 of whom are under age 80 and thus eligible to vote in a conclave. After the consistory, there will be a total of 193 cardinals, 120 of whom can vote.
While electing a Pontiff is the primary task of cardinals, they are also called on to advise the Pope on running the Catholic Church.
On the eve of the consistory, Benedict summoned the entire College of Cardinals, including its newest members, for a duelling retreat and asked them to give him advice on pressing issues such as relations with Islam and reconciling with an ultraconservative group whose bishops were excommunicated two decades ago.
Following today’s ceremony, Europe will still have the vast majority of cardinals at 100, 60 of whom are of voting age. Latin America is next with 20 voting-age cardinals, followed by North America with 16. Asia has 13, Africa nine and Oceania two.
The new Filipino cardinal, Gaudencio Borbon Rosales, said the decision by Benedict to name three new Asian cardinals showed that Asia was important to the Catholic Church, home to two-thirds of the world’s population as well as economic powerhouses.
“I thank God because we are being acknowledged in the whole world,” he said. “The Philippines was considered to be the only Catholic country in Asia, but it is not any more. Now smaller countries are too, like Timor and Korea.”