New Cardinals 'Reflect the Church's Universality'

Two U.S. prelates-Archbishop Francis George and J. Francis Stafford-are among 22 named.

VATICAN CITY-Pope John Paul II has named 22 new cardinals who will assist and advise him in Church matters. Among those to receive the honor is Chicago's Archbishop Francis George OMI, who will also join the ranks of those cardinals eligible to vote in the next papal conclave.

The Pope made the announcement Jan. 18 during his customary recitation of the Sunday Angelus. He said the prelates would formally be elevated at a ceremony, known as a consistory, to be held Feb. 21. It will mark the Pope's seventh consistory since his election in 1978.

A second American, Archbishop J. Francis Stafford, former archbishop of Denver now serving in the Vatican as head of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, was also among the newly named cardinals. Others included the archbishops of Toronto, Mexico City, Vienna, Austria, and Madrid, Spain.

Prelates in Taiwan, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Tanzania, France, and Italy were among those named cardinals, along with the heads of various Vatican departments whose leaders traditionally receive the red cardinal's hat. Pope John Paul II also named bishop Adam Kozlowiecki, a Polish missionary in Zambia, who had been imprisoned in the Nazi death camp in Dachau during World War II.

“The choice of the new cardinals, coming from various parts of the world, reflects in an eloquent way the universality of the Church,” the Pontiff said in making the announcement from the window of his study to pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square.

The Pope appeared in excellent form as he made the surprise announcement on a sunny and mild winter day. A thunder of applause erupted in the square from the thousands of people who were on hand to see him.

The identity of two of the 22 new cardinals, the Pope said, would remain in pectore, (from the Latin meaning “in my breast”) for the time being. This rarely used procedure is intended to protect the identity of cardinals where a public announcement could endanger the prelate or the local Church. Sometimes the Pope will later reveal the identity of the secret cardinals when they are no longer in potential danger, or after they die.

Cardinals are the Pope's closest advisers in Rome and around the world. Those under the age of 80 are known as “cardinal electors” and can enter a conclave to elect a new pontiff. Nineteen of the newly named are cardinal electors.

The Pope's health has led many to speculate that this may be the final consistory of his pontificate, now in its 20th year. He last held a consistory in 1994.

Pope John Paul II has now named 88% of the 123 cardinals eligible to vote for his successor. The total membership in the College of Cardinals has been boosted to 168.

With the new nominations, the Pope said he had made an exception to Church rules, which normally limit the number of cardinal electors to 120, to reward three Italians for dedicated service to the Church. This appeared to be a one-off exception and not a permanent change to Church regulations.

During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II has altered the composition of the college of cardinals away from Europe and more toward Africa, Asia, and Latin America. After the consistory next month, Europe will account for only 55 cardinal electors.

With the two American appointments, the United States will have 11 cardinals eligible to vote for a new Pope, second only to Italy's 23.

Cardinal-designate George, 60, began serving in Chicago last year, replacing Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died in November 1996. The Chicago-born prelate had been archbishop in Portland, Ore., prior to taking up the post as head of the United States'second-largest diocese.

Cardinal-designate Stafford, 65, first caught papal attention in 1993 when the Pope traveled to Denver for World Youth Day. The soon-to-be cardinal was Denver's ordinary for 10 years before the Pope called him to Rome in 1996 to head the Vatican office that oversees the role of the laity in Church affairs worldwide.

Some observers say the next pope may very well be chosen from among the newly named cardinals because many of the existing cardinals are getting older.

One of the rumored papabili (favored candidates for the papacy) from the new group is Christoph schon born, Archbishop of Vienna. At 53, he is the youngest of the newly named cardinals.

Pope John Paul II's selection of new cardinals increases the possibility that the next pope also will be a non-Italian. Although seven of the latest group are Italian, none are considered by Vatican observers to be likely candidates for the papacy.

In announcing the new cardinals and the date of the next consistory, Pope John Paul II said he had intended to include one additional name-Bishop Giuseppe Uhac, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of People. Unfortunately, the Pope explained, Bishop Uhac died the morning the new cardinals were named.

Stephen Banyra writes from Rome.