Pope to elevate first cardinals
Pope Benedict XVI will create the first 15 cardinals of his pontificate on Friday, making his initial selection of those who will eventually choose his successor.
The new cardinals, including three from Asia, will receive the symbols of their high office from the pontiff at a rare consistory at the Vatican.
In the colourful ceremony expected to be watched by millions on television, the newly-elevated cardinals will kneel before the pope for his blessing, and receive a red zucchetto, or skull cap, and a square, scarlet red biretta to wear over it.
Cardinals traditionally wear red to show that they are ready to shed their blood in defence of their faith.
On Saturday, the pope will wind-up the consistory with a special mass in St Peter's Basilica, in which the cardinals will receive their rings of office, and also be named titular head of a church in Rome.
The new appointments will bring the body that will elect the pope to 120, and represent the first-chosen of the post-John Paul II era. Before the new appointments, all but one -- William Baum of Washington -- had been appointed by Benedict's late predecessor.
The new cardinals, representing 11 countries in five continents, reflect "the universality of the Church," Benedict said when he announced the nominations last month.
"In fact, they come from every part of the world and carry out diverse duties in service to the people of God," the pope said.
Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, who heads his continent's biggest diocese, identified the "the evangelisation of Asia" as "the challenge of our times".
Rosales told the Catholic Asianews agency it was thus significant that the pope had chosen to elevate himself and two other Asians -- Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, and Hong Kong bishop Joseph Zen, an outspoken campaigner for religious freedom.
"Asia is the cradle of millennia-old religions, including Christianity, as well as being the centre of economic development, with countries like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, not to mention the giants of China and India," he said.
The consistory was scheduled to begin at 10:30 am (0930 GMT) and last about two hours.
The congregation will be addressed by Archbishop William Levada, the pope's successor as head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and most senior member of the incoming cardinals.
In the afternoon, the new cardinals will each be assigned a room at the Vatican in which to receive lines of diplomats and wellwishers, one of the rare occasions when the hallowed halls of the Vatican are opened to the public.
The total number of cardinals, the "Princes of the Church" who are the pope's special advisors on governing his 1.1 billion-strong flock, will rise to 193 with Friday's ceremony.
However, 70 of them are over 80 years of age and thus ineligible to vote in a conclave.