Pope Benedict XVI concelebrates a Mass with cardinals in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Feb 19. He created 22 new cardinals during a consistory the previous day. CNS photos. Below: New cardinals John Tong Hon of Hong Kong and George Alencherry of India.

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI has created 22 new cardinals from 13 countries – including two from Asia – placing red hats on their heads and calling them to lives of even greater love and service to the church.

The churchmen who joined the College of Cardinals during the Feb 18 ceremony included Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong and Major Archbishop Mar George Alencherry of the Syro Malabar Church in India.

In their first official act in their new role, the new cardinals were asked to join their peers in giving the pope their opinion, in writing, on the canonisation of seven new saints, including Blessed Pedro Calungsod of the Philippines.

The pope announced at the consistory that the canonisation ceremony would be celebrated on Oct 21 at the Vatican.

St Peter’s Basilica was filled to overflowing for the ceremony, and several thousand people sat in a sunny St Peter’s Square watching on large video screens. Choirs from New York and from several Italian dioceses provided music for the service.

At the end of the ceremony, the College of Cardinals had 213 members, 125 of whom were under the age of 80 and, therefore, eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

The consistory took the form of a prayer service. After the Gospel reading, the pope said the new cardinals “will be called to consider and evaluate the events, the problems and the pastoral criteria which concern the mission of the entire Church”.

He asked them “to serve the Church with love and vigour, with the transparency and wisdom of teachers, with the energy and strength of shepherds, with the fidelity and courage of martyrs”.

The pope also stressed that love and service, not self-interest, are to mark their lives as cardinals. “Dominion and service, egoism and altruism, possession and gift, self-interest and gratuitousness: These profoundly contrasting approaches confront each other in every age and place,” he said.

In all things, the new cardinals are called to “an absolute and unconditional love” for their brothers and sisters, even unto the “shedding” of blood, if necessary, a fact underlined by the red colour of the cardinal’s biretta – a three-cornered hat – and the red cardinal’s robes.

In an interview with the Catholic news agency, AsiaNews, prior to the consistory, Bishop Tong, 72, described himself as “unworthy” of the position to which the pope has called him.

He said he is “full of gratitude for this honour” that the pope has bestowed on the Chinese Church.

There are now three Chinese cardinals – Cardinal Tong, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong and Cardinal Paul Shan of Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Cardinal Tong says they can “work together”, especially in strengthening the connection between Chinese Catholics and the Universal Church.

Major Archbishop Alencherry told UCANEWS.COM ahead of his entrance into the College of Cardinals that he is “searching [for] what I can do for the Church, especially at the universal level”.

He said that though Christians in India are a small minority – Catholics account for only 1.9 percent of the population – their strong faith can send a strong message to the whole Church.

“The tradition is strong, the faithful are ready to pay any price for their being Catholic,” he said.  CNS