WASHINGTON— Pope Francis has made his first appointment of cardinals to advise him in leading the world's one billion Roman Catholics. The pope used his weekly Sunday blessing at the Vatican to announce his selection of 19 cardinals, 16 of whom are eligible to vote for the next leader of the church. Some observers think his selections reflect a desire to make the church's top advisory body more representative of nations beyond Europe and North America.
Thousands of Roman Catholics greeted Pope Francis on Sunday, as he appeared at the window of the Apostolic Palace to announce his choices for the new cardinals of the church.
"I will name 16 new cardinals who, belonging to 12 different nations from each part of the world, represent the deep ecclesial relationship between the Church of Rome and the other churches scattered around the world," said Francis during the announcement.
The 16 cardinals the pope referred to are all under the age of 80, making them eligible to enter a conclave of 122 men who can elect a future pope. He appointed another three cardinals older than 80 to honorary positions.
The appointments are Francis' first since he assumed the leadership of the church last March.
Philip Pullella, the Vatican correspondent for the Reuters news agency, said it is significant that only four of the new cardinal electors come from inside the Vatican bureaucracy.
“This is not surprising because Francis has said that he doesn't want a Church made up of career diplomats or career priests or career cardinals, that the Church is around the world. So most of these are actually working archbishops who run big dioceses,” said Pullella.
Six of the new electors are Europeans - four from Italy, one from Britain and one from Germany. A seventh elector is a Canadian.
Europeans and North Americans have long made up more than half of the electors, who sit in a body called the College of Cardinals.
Some observers think that is why Pope Francis also chose nine electors from other parts of the world - five from South and Central America, two from Africa, and two from Asia.
The nine additional electors include nationals of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Haiti and Nicaragua, as well as citizens of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, South Korea and the Philippines.
Vatican correspondent Andrea Gagliarducci of The Catholic News Agency said the pope, who is from Argentina, wants to make the church more universal.
"Pope Francis, in creating these new cardinals, is making a College of Cardinals which is... more oriented to the peripheries of the Church, because he thinks that from the peripheries you can see the Church better and so he wants something like that," said Gagliarducci.
The new cardinals will be formally installed at a Vatican ceremony on February 22.