Source AP ©

Pope Benedict XVI elevates 23 new cardinals

23 churchmen from all over the world were appointed to the top ranks of the Catholic Church hierarchy by Pope Benedict XVI. He told each prelate that he must be willing to shed his blood for the Christian faith.

Benedict was scheduled to preside over the morning consistory - his second since becoming pope - a day after hosting the entire College of Cardinals and the new cardinal-designates at a meeting on the Catholic Church's relations with other Christians.

Benedict announced the names of the 23 new "princes" of the church last month. On Saturday he will give each a red skullcap known as a "biretta," and during Mass on Sunday he will give each one a cardinal's ring.

Eighteen of the 23 new cardinals are under age 80 and thus eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a future pontiff. Benedict named five elderly cardinals to honor them for their service to the church.

Among them is 80-year-old Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Emmanuel III Delly, who said Friday he had told Benedict that he hoped being named Iraq's first cardinal would help bring peace and reconciliation to the country.

"The entire Iraqi people have been honored," Delly told a news conference Friday. "I'm happy that they're happy, so that peace, reconciliation will reign in this tortured country."

Benedict has been outspoken in recent months in lamenting the plight of Christians in Iraq and in the Middle East in general. Delly sidestepped questions about the state of the Christian community in Iraq, saying that all Iraqis were being targeted.

"It's true, sometimes the Christians suffer more, for so many reasons, but what is happening is happening to all Iraqis equally," he said.

According to the rite of Saturday's ceremony, Benedict places the skullcap on the new cardinal's head and tells him that the red signifies the dignity of his new office and that he must be ready "even to the point of spilling your blood for the increase of the Christian faith, for peace and harmony among the people of God, for freedom and the spread of the Holy Roman Catholic Church."

After Saturday, there will be 201 members of the College of Cardinals, 120 of whom can vote in a conclave. Europe claims the lion's share, with 104 cardinals, followed by 34 from Latin America , 20 from North America , 21 from Asia , 18 from Africa and four from Oceania .

On Friday, the Vatican official in charge of relations with other Christians, Cardinal Walter Kasper, told the gathering of cardinals and cardinals-designate that the Catholic Church had to examine what it is doing wrong in the battle for souls who are leaving the Church to join Pentecostal and other evangelical groups.

"We shouldn't begin by asking ourselves what is wrong with the Pentecostals, but what our own pastoral shortcomings are," Kasper told the gathering. He noted that such evangelical and charismatic groups were growing at an "exponential" rate and currently count some 400 million faithful around the world.