Holding Mass in Beirut, Benedict urges community not to leave region, despite war and pressure from radical Islamists.
Pope Benedict XVI has officially named six new non-European cardinals to the body that will elect his successor, saying the move underlined the Catholic Church’s diversity.
The 85-year-old pontiff presided over the ceremony in St Peter’s Basilica that elevated the six prelates to the Church’s College of Cardinals on Saturday.
The body “presents a variety of faces, because it expresses the face of the universal Church”, he said in a development that has been welcomed by critics concerned that the college has become increasingly Euro-centric under Benedict.
“In this consistory, I want to highlight … that the Church is the Church of all peoples,” he said during the ceremony during which the new “princes of the Church” received scarlet red birettas and gold rings.
The new cardinals come from Colombia, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, the Philippines and the US and join the elite body that advises the pope and elects his successor upon his death.
They are American James Michael Harvey, Lebanon’s Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, India’s Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, John Onaiyekan of Nigeria, Colombian Ruben Salazar Gomez and Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines.
Announcing the names of the new cardinals last month, Benedict told bishops that he wanted to show that “the Church belongs to all peoples, speaks all languages”.
During the last consistory held in February, 16 of the 22 new cardinals named were from Europe.
Saturday’s consistory follows the death of several cardinals in recent months and will bring the number of those eligible to vote back up to the maximum of 120.
Cardinals must be under 80 years old to take part in a papal election although they can stay on as non-voting cardinals after they reach that threshold.
There are now 62 European cardinals eligible to vote compared with 67 in February, as well as 14 North Americans, 21 South Americans, 11 Africans and 11 Asians.
Two of the new cardinals, Boutros Rai, 72, of Lebanon, and Onaiyekan, 68, of Nigeria, are from countries with significant Muslim populations.
Benedict’s decision to raise the two to the highest rank in the Church short of the papacy indicates his concern for relations between Christianity and Islam.
Reaching out to Islam
Benedict visited predominantly Muslim Lebanon last September and called on members of both faiths to work together to build peace in the Middle East and beyond.
In Nigeria, which is about 50 per cent Muslim, Boko Haram – an armed group fighting against Western influence – has killed hundreds of people in attacks since launching an uprising in 2009.
Many of the attacks have been on Christians and churches.
Thottunkal, 53, the Indian, is on the front line of inter-religious dialogue with Hinduism.
The other two, Gomez, 70, of Bogota, Colombia, and Tagle, 55, of Manila, come from predominantly Catholic countries.
Benedict’s health appears to be good but he has been looking frail recently and has started using a cane.
Popes usually reign for life but in a book in 2010, Benedict said he would not hesitate to become the first pontiff to resign in more than 700 years if he felt no longer able “physically, psychologically and spiritually” to run the Catholic Church.
Harvey, the 63-year-old American, was the prefect of the Pontifical Household. He arranged the pope’s schedule, including private and public audiences, and looked after world leaders visiting the Vatican.
He is now becoming the archpriest of the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome.