Eighteen of the 23 are under age 80 and thus eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pontiff. Benedict said he would elevate the prelates at a Vatican ceremony Nov. 24.
Among the under-80 new cardinals are the archbishops of Paris; Mumbai, India; Nairobi, Kenya; Valencia, Spain; Barcelona, Spain; Monterrey, Mexico; Dakar, Senegal; Sao Palo, Brazil; the primate of Ireland; and a handful of Italians.
The two Americans include Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and Archbishop John Foley, a longtime Vatican official who was recently named grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, a lay religious community that aims to protect the rights of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
DiNardo will be the first Roman Catholic archbishop in Texas to be elevated to cardinal. His nomination was something of a surprise and appeared to be an indication of Benedict's desire to reach out to the large Latino community in Texas.
DiNardo, who for six years worked at the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, was only named archbishop last year. There are several other U.S. archdioceses that usually have cardinals leading them, including Washington and Baltimore, but the pope did not elevate their archbishops.
In addition to the 18 electoral cardinals, Benedict named five prelates over age 80 who he said deserved particular merit, including the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, Emmanuel III Delly.
Delly has been outspoken about the need to protect minority Christians from Iraq's spiraling violence - a concern voiced repeatedly by Benedict in recent months. Just this past Sunday, Benedict appealed for the swift release of two priests kidnapped in Mosul.
The Christian community in Iraq is about 3 percent of the country's estimated 26 million people.
Also named for commitment and service to the church was the emeritus archbishop of Parana, Argentina, Monsignor Estanislao Esteban Karlic. Benedict named another Argentine cardinal as well, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Eastern Churches.
Benedict said he had wanted to also name the elderly bishop of Koszalin-Kolobrzeg, Poland, Bishop Ignacy Jez, but he died on Tuesday, the eve of the announcement.
"We offer our prayers to him," Benedict said.
Several Vatican officials were named, including the German Monsignor Josef Cordes, who heads the Vatican's charitable works as president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum"; Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for Laity; and Italian Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, former Vatican foreign minister and current governor of Vatican City.
Rylko was a good friend of Pope John Paul II and was at his bedside when he died in 2005. Another new cardinal also had close ties to John Paul: Argentine Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Eastern Churches. Sandri was for several years the "voice" of John Paul, stepping in to deliver his speeches when the ailing pontiff was unable to finish them.
Wednesday marked the second time Benedict has named new cardinals. His first consistory was held in March 2006.
Cardinals have been the sole electors of the pontiff for nearly 1,000 years and it remains their most important job. For centuries, they have elected the pope from their own ranks, as they did on April 19, 2005, when they chose Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to be the next pope.
Following the Nov. 24 conclave, there will be a total of 202 cardinals in the College of Cardinals. Of them, 121 will be of voting age, one over the limit set by Pope Paul VI.