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Preaching a "more tolerant" church, Pope appoints 21 new cardinals

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Pope Francis wraps up historic trip to Mongolia 05:04

Vatican City, Vatican - Pope Francis on Saturday elevated 21 clergymen from distant corners of the world to the rank of cardinal, saying diversity was indispensable to the future of the Catholic Church.

Under sunny skies and with a crowd that filled half of Vatican City's grandiose, colonnaded St Peter's Square, the 86-year-old pope welcomed the new "Princes of the Church" -- one of whom could one day become the successor to the current pontiff.

"The College of Cardinals is called to resemble a symphony orchestra, representing the harmony and synodality of the Church," said Francis, seated under a canopy before the gathered cardinals on the steps of St Peter's Basilica.

Pope Francis Hosts Consistory For Creation Of New Cardinals
Pope Francis appoints as new cardinal Archbishop of Hong Kong Stephen Chow Sau-yan during the Ordinary Public Consistory for the Creation of new Cardinals at St. Peter's Square on September 30, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican. Franco Origlia via Getty Images

Diversity signals church priorities 

"Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design," said the Argentine Jesuit.

The choice of the new cardinals, who include diplomats, close advisers and administrators, is closely watched as an indication of the priorities and position of the Church.

One of them could also one day be elected by his peers to succeed Francis, who has left the door open to stepping down in the future should his health warrant it. In June, the Pope had his second abdominal surgery in just two years was completed "without complications." His health problems have fueled rumors that the Pope could resign.

Saturday's ceremony, known as a consistory, is the ninth since Francis in 2013 was named head of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics.

One by one, the scarlet-clad cardinals knelt before the pope, who bestowed on them the two symbols of their high office: a scarlet four-cornered cap known as a biretta, and a cardinal's ring.

To some, a grinning Francis uttered an encouraging "Bravo!" or "Courage!" as he shook their hand.

Pope Francis Hosts Consistory For Creation Of New Cardinals
Newly appointed cardinals receive congratulations from cardinals and bishops during the Ordinary Public Consistory for the Creation of new Cardinal. Franco Origlia via Getty Images

During his papacy, Francis has sought to create a more inclusive, universal Church, looking past Europe to clergy in Africa, Asia and Latin America to fill the Church's highest ranks.

Eighteen of the 21 newly made cardinals are under the age of 80 and thus currently eligible to vote as "cardinal electors" in the next conclave, when Francis' successor will be decided.

They are among 99 cardinal-electors created by Francis, representing about three-quarters of the total.

That has given rise to speculation that the Church's future spiritual leader will be similar to Francis, preaching a more tolerant Church with a greater focus on the poor and marginalized.

A growing Catholicism

With his latest roster of cardinals, Francis has again looked to the world's "peripheries" -- where Catholicism is growing -- while breaking with the practice of promoting archbishops of large, powerful dioceses.

The array of cardinals represent "a richness and a variety of experience, and that's what the Church is all about," the Archbishop of Cape Town, Stephen Brislin, told AFP Thursday. "The Church encompasses all people, not just a certain group of people," he said.

There are three new cardinals from South America, including two Argentinians, and three from Africa, with the promotion of the archbishops of Juba in South Sudan, Tabora in Tanzania, and Brislin from Cape Town.

Asia is represented by the Bishop of Penang in Malaysia and the Bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow, who is seen as playing a key role in seeking to improve tense relations between the Vatican and Beijing. Some of the new cardinals, like Chow, have experience in sensitive zones of the world where the Holy See hopes to play an important diplomatic role.

Pope Francis Hosts Consistory For Creation Of New Cardinals
Pope Francis appoints as new cardinal Archbishop of Tabora (Tanzania) Protase Rugambwa during the Ordinary Public Consistory for the Creation of new Cardinal at St. Peter's Square. Franco Origlia via Getty Images

The list includes the Holy Land's top Catholic authority, Italian Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the first seated Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem to be made cardinal.

"Jerusalem is a small laboratory, interreligious and intercultural, and that's a challenge that the whole world is facing at this point," Pizzaballa told AFP.

Also to be promoted is the apostolic nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States, France's Christophe Pierre, whose decades-long diplomatic career includes posts in countries including Haiti, Uganda and Mexico.

Top administrators in the Curia, the Holy See's government, are also being recognized. There is Italy's Claudio Gugerotti, prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches; Argentina's Victor Manuel Fernandez, whom the pope recently named head of the powerful Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Chicago-born Robert Prevost, a former missionary in Peru who leads the Dicastery for Bishops.

The last consistory was held in August 2022.

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