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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 12:41 GMT
Pope appoints 15 new cardinals
The Pope gives Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of the Philippines his red hat
Fifteen cardinals were elevated in the ceremony in St Peter's Square
Pope Benedict XVI has appointed 15 new cardinals - the first under his papacy - at a ceremony in the Vatican.

Among those promoted are Hong Kong's archbishop, who is an active campaigner for religious freedom in China, and several men from the developing world.

The appointments raise the total number of cardinals to 193.

On Thursday, the Pope convened the College of Cardinals to discuss the challenges facing the 1.1bn-strong Roman Catholic Church.


Dressed in scarlet robes, the new cardinals knelt in turn before the Pope and received their red hats - the symbols of their high office - at a solemn ceremony in St Peter's Square.

The hats symbolise the cardinals' readiness to shed blood in defence of the Catholic Church if called upon to do so.

The 15 new "princes" of the church come from 11 countries. They include the archbishops of Caracas in Venezuela, Manila in the Philippines, Seoul in South Korea and Toledo in Spain.

Hong Kong Archbishop Joseph Zen was also at the Consistory, as the Vatican ceremony is known.

Cardinal Joseph Zen

His appointment is very important to the Pope, correspondents say.

He has always been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, which allows Catholics to worship only in state-sanctioned churches, and bans all contact with the Vatican.

The new Filipino cardinal, Gaudencio Borbon Rosales, said the Pope's decision to name three new Asian cardinals showed the continent's growing importance to the Catholic Church.

"I thank God because we are being acknowledged in the whole world," he told AP Television News.

"The Philippines was considered to be the only Catholic country in Asia, but it is not any more. Now smaller countries are too, like Timor and Korea."

Voting rights

Another new cardinal is Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the long-time private secretary of Pope Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II.

And US appointee Sean O'Malley - the influential archbishop of Boston - is the man who was brought in by the Vatican to clean up the US archdiocese following a child sex abuse scandal.

The Pope has said recently that the new cardinals would "reflect the universality of the Church".

A total of 120 of the 193 cardinals - including 12 of those elevated on Friday - will be aged under 80 and thus eligible to enter a conclave to choose a pope.

'Open debate'

On Thursday, the Pope presided over an unusually open debate involving more than 170 cardinals from most of the world's leading cities, BBC's David Willey in Rome says.

This was no rubber-stamp assembly, but a genuine effort by the new pope to keep the promise he made after his election to consult the men who actually run the Church before making policy decisions, our correspondent says.

The meeting was held behind closed doors, but the subjects discussed were freely reported by those attending.

Relations with Islam in the wake of anti-Christian violence in Iraq, in Indonesia and in Nigeria were among the main topics.

Bishop Joseph Zen's comments on Chinese-Catholic relations

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