POPE Benedict XVI has appointed six priests from non-European countries to be cardinals, at a service in the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica.
The cardinals, the closest aides of the Pope, come from the Philippines, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Colombia and the US.
Analysts say it is unusual for the Pope to select only non-Europeans.
The Pope told the congregation that the Catholic Church belongs to the whole human race, not just one group, and was a church for all peoples.
Those being presented at the consistory, or cardinal-making ceremony, were US Archbishop James Harvey, 63, prefect of the papal household; Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, 72; Indian Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, 53, head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church; Nigerian Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, 68; Colombian; Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, 70; and Philippine Archbishop Luis Tagle of Manila, 55.
All six new cardinals are younger than 80 and therefore will likely be eligible to vote for a new Pope when the current pontiff dies.
Three are from countries with large Muslim populations –– India, Lebanon and Nigeria.
Cheers broke out among the supporters of each cardinal-designate as the Pope presented them with the gold rings at the consistory and the red hats and vestments, which symbolise their readiness to shed their blood to defend their Christian faith.
Pope Benedict has previously faced criticism for appointing mainly Europeans as cardinals, despite the Church’s estimate that less than a quarter of the world’s Catholics live in Europe.
In February, he created 22 new cardinals including 16 Europeans, seven of whom were Italian.
By adding six non-Europeans to the number of 114 cardinal electors, the Pope has slightly shifted the geographical demographic of the body which will ultimately choose his successor, though Europeans still make up the majority, at 51 percent.
Cardinal-designate John Onaiyekan is the archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims each make up about half the population, and dialogue between the two faiths is increasingly important, says a BBC report in Rome.
The Pope’s elevation of Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al Rahi, the head of the Maronite Church - an ancient Lebanese Christian Church in communion with Rome - is seen as a sign of Vatican support for religious diversity in Lebanon.
The Pope has called on Christians to remain in the Middle East despite rising Islamism, and during a visit to Beirut in September, said Lebanon was a model for the region.
Before yesterday’s ceremony, Pope Benedict met Lebanese President Michel Sleiman. A representative of the Shia militant group Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government, also attended the ceremony.
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