Base decisions on faith, Pope tells new cardinals

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict on Sunday told 22 new Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world to base their actions and decisions on the bedrock of their faith as they exercise greater responsibility and power.

Benedict, 84, celebrated a solemn Mass in St Peter's Basilica with the new cardinals, a day after he raised them to the highest rank in the Church under him.

"The new dignity that has been conferred upon you is intended to show appreciation for the faithful labour you have carried out in the Lord's vineyard, to honour the communities and nations from which you come and which you represent so worthily in the Church," he said in his homily.

He said their new positions was "to invest you with new and more important ecclesial responsibilities and finally to ask of you an additional readiness to be of service to Christ and to the entire Christian community."

Cardinals, known as the "princes of the Church" are the pope's closest aides in the Vatican and around the world and those under 80 are part of the exclusive group who will one day elect one of their own to succeed him as leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics.

They lead major archdioceses and run Vatican departments that help the pope decide Church policy and doctrine that can affect the lives of Catholics worldwide.

Among the most prominent in the group is New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who is being touted by some Vatican experts as a possible future candidate to become the first American pope.

"Everything in the Church rests upon faith: the sacraments, the liturgy, evangelization, charity," Benedict, who turns 85 in April and is showing signs of his age, told the new cardinals.

The new cardinals are from the United States, Hong Kong, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, India, Canada, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Romania, Belgium and Malta.

Eighteen of them are aged under 80 and thus will be eligible to enter a secret conclave to elect the next pope from among their own ranks. Twelve of those are Europeans, bringing the number of "cardinal electors" from the continent to 67 out of 125.

With the appointments, Benedict, who was elected in a secret conclave in 2005, has now named more than half the cardinal electors. The others were named by his predecessor John Paul.

Numerically, at least, the pope has increased the chances that the next pontiff will be a conservative European but there have been surprises in past conclaves.

The pope is a conservative on matters of faith and sexual morals such as birth control, homosexuality and the ban on women priests. Each time he names cardinals he puts his stamp on Roman Catholicism's future by choosing men who share his views.