Pope Francis installed 13 new cardinals on Saturday, including the first African-American to hold the high rank, further expanding the pontiff’s impact on the group that will one day elect his successor.
The cardinals were installed in a ceremony, known as a consistory, which was markedly reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of the usual thousands, only 10 guests per cardinal were allowed in St. Peter’s Basilica, as the Pope gave the men his ring and his traditional red hat, known as a biretta.
Nine of the 13 are under the age of 80 and are eligible under Church law to enter a secret conclave to elect the next pope from among them after Francis dies or resigns.
It was Francis’ seventh consistory since his election in 2013. He has now appointed 57% of 128 cardinal electors, most of whom share his vision for a more inclusive and outward-oriented Church.
So far, he has named 18 cardinals from mostly distant countries that never had one, nearly all from the developing world. In Saturday’s consistory, Brunei and Rwanda won their first cardinals.
While Europe still has the highest proportion of cardinal electors, at 41%, it is below 52% in 2013 when Francis became the first Latin American pope.
With each consistory, Francis has increased the chances that his successor will be another non-European, having strengthened the Church in places where it is a small minority or where it is growing faster than in the stagnant West.
The nine new voters come from Italy, Malta, Rwanda, the United States, the Philippines, Chile, Brunei and Mexico.
In his homily, Francis told men to keep their eyes on God, avoid all forms of corruption, and not succumb to a “worldly spirit” that can accompany the prestige and power of your new rank.
Everyone in the basilica, except the Pope, wore a mask. Each new cardinal removed his when he knelt before him to be invested.
Wilton Gregory, the 72-year-old Archbishop of Washington, DC, becomes the first African-American cardinal at a time when the United States is examining race relations following a series of police killings of unarmed blacks.
Gregory made headlines in June when he criticized President Donald Trump’s visit to a Catholic shrine in Washington after police and soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear out protesters so Trump could be photographed in front of a church. Washington landmark holding a Bible.
Gregory said he found it “disconcerting and reprehensible that any Catholic facility allowed itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated.”
Catholic conservatives condemned Gregory and sided with Trump.
In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Gregory said he wanted to find common ground with US President-elect Joe Biden, despite disagreements on issues such as abortion.
Gregory was one of a handful of new cardinals who were quarantined for about 10 days in their rooms at the Vatican guesthouse where the Pope also lives. The cardinals of Brunei and the Philippines were unable to travel and will receive their ring and hat from a papal delegate.
Four non-electors over the age of 80 received the honor after a long service to the Church. Most prominent is Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, an Italian-American who has served around the world and is one of the Church’s leading experts on immigration.