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Pope Benedict Names 23 New Cardinals; First Iraqi Among Them

Pope Benedict has named 23 new cardinals of the Catholic Church at a mass held at Rome's Saint Peter's Basilica. Among them is the first-ever Iraqi Cardinal. Pope Benedict singled him out as he appealed for peace and reconciliation in Iraq. VOA's Margaret Besheer has more on Saturday's ceremony.

In his sermon, Pope Benedict expressed his concern for all Iraqis. He says that by calling the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Emmanuel Delly, to the college of Cardinals, he wants to express in a concrete way his spiritual closeness and affection to the Iraqi people. He calls for the church to reaffirm its solidarity with Iraqi Christians and asks God to bring peace and reconciliation to all Iraqis.

The Chaldeans are Iraq's biggest Christian group and theirs is one of the most ancient rites of the Catholic Church. But many Iraqi Christians have left the country since the war began in 2003, trying to escape sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that often found them caught in the middle. Several Iraqi churches have been bombed and priests have been among those kidnapped and killed.

Following the ceremony, Cardinal Delly told well-wishers in Saint Peter's Square that it was a very happy day for him.He said, "For all people, especially for Iraq, and pray for us, pray for Iraq and for [the] population of Iraq."

During the service, the Pope, dressed in vestments (robes) embroidered in gold, presented each new cardinal with a three-pointed red hat known as a "biretta." Its color is meant to remind them that they may one day be called upon to spill their blood for the faith and the Church.

The new cardinals, also called "princes" of the Church, will advise the pope on everything from doctrine to finances.

Of the 23 new cardinals, 18 are under the age of 80, making them eligible under Church rules to vote in the secret conclave (council) that will elect Benedict's successor after his death.

In addition to the Iraqi cardinal, the other new cardinals come from Italy, Ireland, Germany, the United States, Spain, India, Argentina, Kenya, Mexico, Poland, Senegal, Brazil and France. Many Catholic pilgrims from those countries gathered in Saint Peter's Square waving flags and celebrating.