VATICAN CITY (AP) — Looking weary during a third straight day of speeches and ceremony, Pope Benedict XVI led 22 new cardinals in Mass Sunday and prayed for help so that he and his aides can continue to carry out the Catholic church's worldwide mission.
Many of the men who sat before the pope in front of the Baroque central altar of St. Peter's Basilica, dressed in white robes and wearing their new red hats, will likely vote in secret conclave for Benedict's successor after his death.
Benedict, who turns 85 in April, read a long homily in a hoarse voice and looked tired on the third straight day of speeches, rituals and appearances for the new cardinals. Benedict told the new members of the College of Cardinals their main task is to "bear witness to the joy of Christ's love."
The Vatican has been embarrassed by months of intrigue involving alleged corruption and apparent jockeying for power within the hierarchy with a view to the next papacy. The leaking of documents and a rash of in-house scandals have been interpreted by observers as indications that Vatican insiders see Benedict's attention to the Holy See's bureaucracy as waning.
Since becoming pontiff in 2005 following the long papacy of John Paul II, Benedict has concentrated much energy on improving Christian unity, reaching out to disaffected Anglicans and working to bring ultraconservative Catholic defectors back into the fold. But his own curia — as the Vatican's heavily centralized bureaucracy is known — appears to be dividing into factions amid nasty power plays.
Arriving for Mass, Benedict raised an arm to wave in greeting to faithful in the packed basilica as ushers glided his wheeled platform up the long main aisle, then quickly grasped a support bar on the mobile pedestal, a device he started using a few months ago to save energy.
After the two-hour ceremony, Benedict went to his window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square to greet pilgrims and tourists. He prayed that the Virgin Mary "may help me and my collaborators to work tirelessly for the unity of the people of God and to announce to all the peoples the message of salvation, carrying out humbly and courageously the service of truth in charity."
Speaking about the new "princes of the church," Benedict told the faithful that they are "now ever more committed to work with me in guiding the universal church."
But while the making of new cardinals always sparks speculation about whether any of them are potential contenders for the papacy themselves, Benedict is going ahead with his drive to invigorate faithful worldwide in their adherence to church teaching. Next month, he will make a pilgrimage to Mexico and Cuba, although his schedule includes relatively few public appearances compared with previous papal journeys abroad.
While prelates' handling of scandals involving pedophile priests have caused dismay among faithful in the United States and much of Europe, traditional bastions of church support, Catholicism is showing growth in parts of Africa and Asia