VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis appointed 14 new cardinals Thursday, a diverse selection from all over the world including Iraq, Pakistan, Madagascar, and Japan whom he warned to avoid the kind of “palace intrigues” that have plagued the Vatican over the years.
The appointments come as the Argentine pontiff gradually shapes a less European college of cardinals.
Before the ceremony marking their appointment, Francis warned the new batch of cardinals that they must not get involved in “palace intrigues” within the Vatican but focus on “those who are hungry, the forgotten, the prisoner, the sick, the addict, [and] the abandoned person”.
Among the new “princes” of the church is Iraq’s Louis Raphael Sako who has often met Pope Francis to discuss the situation in the war-torn country and the plight of the dwindling Christian community.
From Pakistan comes Joseph Coutts of Karachi who promotes dialogue between Christians and Muslims. He also works for the protection of his community in a country where churches are under police protection due to threats from extremists.
Desire Tsarahazana from Toamasina in Madagascar is the only African among the new cardinals.
“The people are suffering and need support,” he said of his appointment.
‘We were there before Muslims’
The Pope also appointed Thomas Aquinas Manyo from Osaka in Japan. Among the three Latin American prelates is Archbishop Pedro Barreto of Huancayo, Peru.
Barreto fights for the rights of the communities living in the Amazon forest and has received death threats for denouncing working conditions in illegal mines.
Seven European cardinals were also appointed, including Italy’s Giuseppe Petrocchi, the archbishop of L’Aquila, a city destroyed nine years ago by a violent earthquake.
As well as having the key role of choosing a new pope, cardinals often also hold the highest administrative offices in the church.
Each new appointee knelt in front of Pope Francis who placed the cardinal’s hat on their heads during the ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
Speaking at the beginning of the ceremony, Sako hailed “the special attention from the Pope… for the small flock of Christians in the Middle East, in Pakistan, and other countries that are going through a difficult period because of wars”.
A third of the Christian families in the north of the country were able to return to their land after the collapse of Daesh, often with funds raised by the church.
Sako believes 400,000-500,000 Christians now living in Iraq, compared to 1.5 million before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
“It’s is our land”, Sako, who advocates “dialogue”, told journalists on Wednesday.
Pope Francis, the first head of the church from Latin America, is 81 and was named in 2013 after his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI stood down citing advancing age.
In the event of a conclave to name a new pope, 11 of the new 14 cardinals being under 80 years of age would be eligible to take part.
The new appointments mean there are now 226 members of the college of cardinals.