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Pope creates six new cardinals from outside Europe

Cardinals greet new Cardinal Tagle after he received the red hat at St Peter's (AP)

Pope Benedict XVI created six new cardinals from four different continents on Saturday.

The churchmen who joined the College of Cardinals were American Archbishop James Harvey, former prefect of the papal household, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, Indian Archbishop Baselio Cleemis Thottunkal, head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, Nigerian Archbishop John Onaiyekan, Colombian Archbishop Rubén Salazar Gómez and Filipino Archbishop Luis Tagle.

“I want to highlight in particular the fact that the Church is the Church of all peoples, so she speaks in the various cultures of the different continents,” the Pope said during the hour-long service in St Peter’s Basilica. “Amid the polyphony of the various voices, she raises a single harmonious song to the living God.”

The six new cardinals later stepped up to the Pope, who was seated before the basilica’s main altar, to receive symbols of their office: a ring, the zucchetto and the three-cornered hat called a biretta. The headwear was coloured scarlet, like the cardinals’ robes, to symbolise the blood they risk shedding in service to the Church.

The new Eastern Catholic cardinals received modified versions of the biretta, consistent with the distinctive clerical garb of their churches. Cardinal Rai received the turban-like Maronite tabieh, and Cardinal Cleemis a head covering in a shape reminiscent of an onion dome.

Pope Benedict also assigned each of the new cardinals a “titular church” in Rome, making them full members of the Rome clergy and closer collaborators of the Pope in governing the universal Church.

Cardinal Harvey’s titular church is the Church of St Pius V a Villa Carpegna, a post-war church about a mile southwest of Vatican City. The Pope has also named Cardinal Harvey to serve as archpriest of the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls, one of Rome’s four major papal basilicas.

The ceremony was a much quieter affair than the last consistory in February, when Pope Benedict created 22 cardinals, including three from the United States and Canada. This time, there was no overflow crowd in St Peter’s Square, and only 99 of the 211 members of the College of Cardinals were in attendance.

Yet the congregation was spirited, with pilgrims applauding enthusiastically as the new cardinals’ names were called. Cardinal Tagle seemed especially moved as he knelt before the Pope, and afterwards was seen wiping a tear from his eye.

At the end of the ceremony, the College of Cardinals had 211 members, 120 of whom were under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

The new consistory raises the percentage of Asian electors from seven per cent to nine per cent. Catholics in Asia account for just over 10 per cent of the worldwide Catholic population.

At the same time, the percentage of European electors dropped slightly, to just over 51 per cent. But the continent remains statistically overrepresented, since the Vatican reports that fewer than 24 per cent of the world’s Catholics live in Europe.