Leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis created 13 new cardinals on Saturday – including the first African-American — putting his personal stamp on the body that will one day choose his successor.
Under the soaring dome of St Peter’s Basilica, the new “Princes of the Church” knelt one by one at the feet of the 83-year-old pontiff, who placed the quadrangular scarlet cap, or biretta, on their heads.
The diverse group — whose members hail from Italy, Malta, the Philippines, Chile, Brunei, Mexico and the United States — reflect not only the changing face of the church of 1.3 billion faithful, but also the Jesuit pope’s belief in priests focused on the world’s poor.
The 72-year-old Archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory, told AFP on Friday he was a “symbolic individual” for being made the first African-American cardinal.
Since Francis’ election in 2013, the Argentine pope — the first from the Americas — has created 95 new cardinals in ceremonies known as consistories.
Those named by Francis now make up the majority of those cardinals under the age of 80 who will elect his successor.
That increases the chances that the pope’s efforts to make the Roman Catholic Church more inclusive, transparent, and more focused on defending the most vulnerable members of society, may continue after his death.
During the ceremony, Francis warned the new cardinals not to be seduced by their new “eminence” and stray from being “close to the people”.
“The scarlet of a cardinal’s robes, which is the colour of blood, can, for a worldly spirit, become the colour of a secular ’eminence’,” said Francis. “When you feel that, you will be off the road.”