THE leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has been created a cardinal by Pope Francis.
The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, received the symbolic red hat at a consistory ceremony in Rome.
He was one of 19 cardinals created during the ceremony yesterday morning at St Peter’s Basilica.
The appointments mean that they will be granted a place at the conclave which will be consulted to elect the next Pope.
Archbishop Nichols, the 11th Archbishop of Westminster to receive the honour, said when it was announced last month that he was “deeply moved”.
Retired Pope Benedict XVI joined Pope Francis at yesterday’s ceremony. He smiled, waved and seemed genuinely happy to be there, taking his seat in the front row, off to the side, alongside the red-draped cardinals.
It was the first time that Benedict and Francis have appeared together at a public liturgical ceremony since Benedict retired a year ago and became the first Pope to step down in more than 600 years.
The significance of his presence was multifold, signalling both continuity and even a sign of Benedict’s approval of the 19 men Francis had chosen to join the College of Cardinals, the elite group of churchmen whose primary job is to elect a pope.
Francis’ choices largely reflected his view that the church must minister to the peripheries and not be a self-reverential institution but rather a place of welcome and mercy. He named cardinals from some of the world’s poorest countries, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast among them, tapping many pastors like himself.
Delivering the Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Archbishop Nichols said just four of the 15 new cardinals were from European countries and the Pope was “broadening the perspectives” of those who advise him.
He added: “The voice of those who live among and care for the poor is a voice Pope Francis wants to hear in his counsels.
“He also wants around him those whose role is to lead communities of Catholic faith in the mega-cities of our world: Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Seoul and, in my case, London.”