VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, elevating 23 prelates from around the world to the elite rank of cardinal, made a pressing appeal on Saturday for an end to the war in Iraq and decried the plight of the country's Christian minority.
One of the new cardinals is Emmanuel III Delly, the Baghdad-based Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, and the Pope used the solemn occasion, known as a consistory, to express his concern for Iraq.
The other new cardinals come from Italy, Ireland, Germany, the United States, Spain, India, Argentina, Kenya, Mexico, Poland, Senegal, Brazil and France.
Speaking of Delly during the ceremony in St Peter's Basilica, Benedict said Christians in Iraq were "feeling with their own flesh the dramatic consequences of an enduring conflict ... "
The Chaldeans are Iraq's biggest Christian group and the Chaldean rite is one of the most ancient of the Catholic Church.
Many Iraqi Chaldeans have emigrated since the war started. The Vatican has expressed concern before that one of the countries with the oldest Christian traditions could be depleted of its faithful as many leave to escape the violence.
"Let us together reaffirm the solidarity of the whole Church with the Christians of that beloved land and invoke from the merciful God the coming of longed-for reconciliation and peace for all the peoples involved (in the conflict)," he said in his homily.
Wearing gold embroidered vestments, the Pope said in his sermon that he had chosen the Iraqi patriarch as a cardinal to express his spiritual closeness to suffering Iraqis.
Eighteen of the new cardinals are under 80 and eligible under Church rules to enter a secret conclave to elect a new pope after Benedict's death. The other five, including Delly, are over 80 and were given the honor for symbolic reasons or to thank them for long service to the Church.
"PRINCES OF THE CHURCH"
The Pope bestowed the new "princes of the Church" with a biretta, a red hat whose color is meant to remind them that they may one day be called upon to shed their blood for the faith and the Church.
While the normal biretta has four corners and three vertical protruding fins, the Pope gave Delly a round hat in keeping with the sartorial tradition of the Chaldeans. Delly received the most applause and supporters waved an Iraqi flag during the service.
Cardinals are the Pope's closest aides. They lead major dioceses around the world, head Vatican departments and advise him on matters affecting everything from faith to finances.
The new "electors" include Archbishop John Patrick Foley, a former Vatican official from the United States, Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, and Archbishop Paul Joseph Cordes, a German based in the Vatican.
Archbishops Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, Oswald Gracias of Bombay, Francisco Robles Ortega of Monterrey, Mexico, John Njue of Nairobi and Sean Baptist Brady -- Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland -- will also be electors.
It was the second time since his election in April 2005 that the Pope has elevated cardinals to put his stamp on the Church. The first consistory was in March 2006, when he installed 15.
Church law sets a ceiling of 120 on the number of "cardinal electors". The total number of cardinals, including those over 80, is now 201.
The late Pope John Paul held nine consistories during his 26-year reign and created more than 200 cardinals. All but 2 of the prelates who entered the conclave following his death in April, 2005 had been made cardinals by him.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella and Tom Heneghan, editing by Peter Millership)
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