Pope appoints 14 new cardinals

Pope Francis. REUTERS photo.

Pope Francis was to appoint 14 new cardinals today, a diverse selection from all over the world including Iraq, Pakistan, Madagascar and Japan.

In the event of a conclave to name a new pope, 11 of the new 14 cardinals being under 80 years of age would be eligible to take part.

The appointments come as the Argentine pontiff gradually shapes a less European college of cardinals whose members are often committed to peace or social justice.

Among the new "princes" of the church will be Iraq's Louis Sako who has often met Pope Francis to discuss the situation in the war-torn country and the plight of the dwindling Christian community.

He described his nomination as "a thought from the pope for the Christians of Iraq." One third of the Christian families in the north of the country were able to return to their land after the collapse of the Islamic State group, often with funds raised by the church.

Sako believes 400,000-500,000 Christians now live in Iraq, compared to 1.5 million before the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.

"It's is our land, we were here before the arrival of Muslims", says Sako who advocates "dialogue" and challenges "a vision of a uniquely Islamic nation". From Pakistan comes Joseph Coutts of Karachi who promotes dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Coutts fights the abusive use of the crime of blasphemy in a country where churches are under police protection due to threats from extremist Muslim groups.

Desire Tsarahazana from Toamasina in Madagascar is the only African among the new cardinals.

"The people are suffering and need support," he said of his appointment. The Pope was also to appoint Thomas Aquinas Manyo from Osaka in Japan. Among the three Latin American prelates is Archbishop Pedro Barreto of Huancayo, Peru.

Barreto fights for the rights of the communities living in the Amazon forest and has received death threats for denouncing working conditions in illegal mines.

Seven European cardinals will also be appointed, including Italy's Giuseppe Petrocchi, archbishop of L'Aquila, a city destroyed nine years ago by a violent earthquake.

As well as having the key role of choosing a new pope, cardinals often also hold the highest administrative offices in the church.

Pope Francis, the first head of the church from Latin America, is 81 and was named in 2013 after his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI stood down citing advancing age.

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Pope appoints 14 new cardinals

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