Wuerl elevated to cardinal by pope as supporters cheer
ROME - Rain poured down on the colonnaded square outside, but inside St. Peter's Basilica, solemnity and good cheer reigned as Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and 23 other men were called to join the College of Cardinals, the most powerful arm of the Catholic Church after the papacy.
Under the imposing gold and bronze Baroque high altar of the basilica, Pope Benedict XVI placed the three-cornered red cardinal's hat on the heads of the new "princes of the church" while they pledged their faith to God and church.
The pope reminded them of their new responsibility, symbolized by the red of their birettas, or hats, and their vestments: to "act with fortitude, even to the point of spilling your blood for the increase of the Christian faith."
Saturday's ceremony, called a consistory, marked the third time Benedict has named new cardinals to the body that is called on to advise the pope, and more importantly, to choose the next one when the time comes.
The creation of the 24 new cardinals brings the total number to 203 - 121 of whom are under age 80 - making them eligible to participate in a conclave to elect a new pope.
Pope Benedict told his newly elevated advisers that they were like the disciples of Jesus Christ, and so should offer their "total obedience to God."
The increased responsibility, he said, "requires an ever greater effort to assume the style of the son of God."
Inside the basilica, the more than 400 members of Wuerl's entourage - family, friends and ordinary Catholics who traveled here to support him - cheered as he walked up, bare-headed, to the altar and knelt before the pope. He was given a red zucchetto, or skullcap, by a papal aide before Benedict placed the biretta on his head.
The just-elevated Cardinal Wuerl smiled slightly as he stood and bowed before the pope. When the last of the new cardinals had been called, they greeted and congratulated one another. An evidently joyous Wuerl offered greetings to his new colleagues, including Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Vatican's highest court and the only other American elevated in this consistory.
Both Wuerl and Burke, like the others elevated Saturday, share the pope's devotion to the church's traditional teachings on a range of social issues.
After the ceremony, Wuerl told reporters that making his way up to the pope had been "an exciting moment." The placing of the biretta on each cardinal's head, he said, is the visible sign of "the very special bond" between him and the pope.
He added that the presence of so many people from around the world who had come to support their new cardinals was a sign of the church's universality.