VATICAN CITY -- In a sunlit ceremony of ancient ritual in St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II on Wednesday installed a record number of cardinals -- 44 new princes of the Roman Catholic Church.
With some cardinals popping on sunglasses against the glare, John Paul, in a sometimes slurred voice, read the names of men from 27 countries and five continents -- a diversity that reflects the church's geographic shift.
Tens of thousands of admirers sent up rousing cheers when he read the names of the new U.S. cardinals, Fordham University theologian Avery Dulles and Archbishops Edward Egan of New York and Theodore McCarrick of Washington. Another U.S. citizen in the group is Ukrainian-born Lubomyr Husar.
Dulles, the oldest of the new cardinals at 82, used a cane to walk up the steps of St. Peter's and was the last to kneel before the 80-year-old pontiff. When Dulles rose after embracing the pope, his biretta -- the three-cornered red hat worn by cardinals -- tumbled off.
Many of the cardinals beamed in delight as they approached the pope to receive their red hats. With the ceremony, the total number of cardinals rises to 184.
Among the first to go up was Vietnamese Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, 72, who was imprisoned by Communists after the 1975 fall of Saigon.
John Paul gave a particularly warm greeting to one of his closest aides, Jesuit Roberto Tucci, patting him on the back repeatedly. A Vatican Radio official, Tucci helps plan the pope's trips abroad.
For the first time, some new cardinals from Eastern Rite churches chose not wear the biretta, opting for traditional headgear instead. Syrian patriarch Ignace Moussa I Daoud kept his black, flat-topped hat and Husar, the archbishop of Lviv, kept his traditional black hood.
The red color reserved for cardinals represents the challenge the pope presents them: "Be ready to spill blood if need be to spread the faith."
"Every Christian knows he is called to a faithfulness without compromise, which can require even the extreme sacrifice," the pope said in his homily.
Behind the unchanging ritual, he noted the changing face of the Catholic church at the start of its third millennium -- less European, more developing world where the faith is growing.
"Is this not also a sign of the ability of the church, already in every corner of the planet, to understand peoples with different traditions and languages?" he asked.
John Paul, now in the 23rd year of his papacy, has worked to boost the ranks of cardinals and their geographical diversity.
In naming a record number of cardinals, he ignored limits set by his predecessor Paul VI on the number younger than 80 and therefore eligible to vote for the next pontiff.
"He probably was trying to satisfy the needs of a rapidly expanding church around the world," said Dulles.
With Wednesday's ceremony, the number of voting-age cardinals jumps from 120 to 135.
All but 10 were appointed by this pope. Most share his conservative views on sexual and morality matters and liberal ideas on social justice issues such as workers' rights.
For centuries, Italians were virtually synonymous with the Vatican and the Krakow bishop's election in 1978 as the first non-Italian pontiff in 455 years shocked many.
Now there are 96 cardinals from Europe -- including 40 from Italy -- but only 65 are of voting age. There are 51 cardinals from the Americas, with 40 eligible to vote.
Latin America, which has about 40 percent of the world's 1 billion Catholics, now has 33 cardinals; 27 are of voting age.
Among the new Latin American cardinals is one of the youngest: Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, 58, the first cardinal from Honduras. Some observers say he could be the next pontiff.
Like many in the College of Cardinals, he skirted questions about the next conclave.
"Only the Holy Spirit knows," he said in an Associated Press interview, using the standard response to conclave questions.
"I'm not considered 'papabile' (a papal contender)," he hastened to add. "Those were the words of some friends."
A few days earlier, another new Latin American cardinal was more frank.
Caracas Archbishop Ignacio Antonio Velasco Garcia said the next pope would likely be from Latin America. Then he even raised his hand to show how he'd vote.
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