Pope Francis has appointed his first batch of cardinals, with nine of the 19 coming from South America, Africa and Asia.

"Becoming a cardinal is not a promotion, nor an honour or a decoration; it is simply a service which requires a broadening of the gaze and a widening of the heart," Francis said in a letter to each new cardinal-to-be, the AFP news agency reported on Saturday.

The new "princes of the Church" 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.

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, nearly half are non-Europeans, including five cardinals from South America, two Africans and two Asians.

Francis is keen to nourish faith in developing countries, to combat the decline of practicing believers in Europe, the Church's traditional power base.

Rare choices

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, becomes the Church's first cardinal from Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world.

For Africa, the new electors are the archbishops of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Abidjan in Ivory Coast, while Asia was represented by the archbishops of Cotabato in the Philippines and Seoul in South Korea.

The pope's choices echo his desire to emphasise the pastoral side of the Church, choosing for the most part leaders engaged with the problems affecting their local communities rather than favouring administrative heads.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies