VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis appointed his first batch of cardinals on Saturday as his predecessor Benedict made a surprise rare appearance at the ceremony naming the new “princes of the Church.”
The new cardinals were presented with scarlet-red birettas and gold rings at a grandiose ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica that Vatican observers say should help correct a perceived bias towards European cardinals.
Nine of the 19 cardinals appointed on Saturday came from South America, Africa and Asia. The two Asian cardinals are Archbishops Orlando Quevedo of the Philippines and Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul, South Korea.
Former pope Benedict XVI, who last year became the first pontiff to retire since the Middle Ages, joined the cardinals in the front row of the basilica.
The 86-year-old seemed cheerful as he sat cloaked in his white papal garments in the midst of the red-robed cardinals. He and Francis hugged at the start of the ceremony and shook hands warmly at the end.
Sixteen of the 19 cardinals are under the age of 80 and can therefore take part in the secretive conclave that elects new popes from among their ranks.
In an indication of the importance of the developing world for the Argentine pope—a fierce critic of economic inequality—half are non-Europeans, including five cardinals from South America, two Africans and two Asians.
Francis, in a cream mantle embroidered with gold, called on the new cardinals to be “peacemakers, building peace by our hopes and our prayers.”
‘The Church needs your courage’
“I will tell you what the Church needs: she needs you, your cooperation and even more your communion. The Church needs your courage,” he said.
The 77-year-old called on the new cardinals to show “compassion, especially at this time of pain and suffering for so many countries throughout the world.”
Francis is keen to nourish faith in developing countries, to combat the decline of practicing believers in Europe, the Church’s traditional power base.
The first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years bestowed the honour of the red cap on the archbishops of Buenos Aires in Argentina, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Santiago in Chile, Managua in Nicaragua and Les Cayes in Haiti.
Aurelio Poli, 66, took over the post of Buenos Aires archbishop from Francis, who was a regular visitor to the city’s slums before he became pope almost a year ago.
Chibly Langlois, 55, is the Church’s first cardinal from Haiti, one of the poorest countries of the world.
According to Vatican watcher John Allen, Francis is taking the idea of privileging the periphery even further, by choosing Haiti over the region’s three Catholic powerhouses — Cuba, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic.
For Africa, the new electors were the archbishops of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Abidjan in Ivory Coast.
The Pope’s choices echo his desire to emphasis the pastoral side of the Church—choosing for the most part leaders engaged with the problems affecting their local communities rather than favoring administrative heads.
Only four are members of the Curia—the Vatican’s government—including Italian Pietro Parolin, 58, the new secretary of state, as well as German Gerhard Mueller, 66, who heads the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation.