- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

VATICAN CITY — A largely silent Pope John Paul II yesterday elevated 31 new cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, most of whom will be charged with electing his successor.

His voice weak and slurred, the 83-year-old pope pronounced the Latin liturgical formula elevating the new “princes of the Church,” but he did not attempt to recite his homily, which was read by an aide.

The strain of a long week of 25th anniversary celebrations has clearly taken its toll, prompting one of the pontiff’s oldest friends to opine that the world might have heard the last from him.

For the first time, in the central part of the colorful ceremony, John Paul II did not place the ceremonial red biretta on each cardinal’s head, as is the Church’s tradition — a further sign of his declining mobility because of Parkinson’s disease.

Instead, he handed them the square red hat denoting their high office as they approached one by one and knelt before him. Some of the cardinals leaned forward to kiss his hand.

In his homily, read by the Vatican deputy secretary of state, Leonardo Sandri, John Paul II reminded the prelates that the bright red color of their new cassocks symbolizes their willingness to die for the faith if necessary.

The list of new cardinals released by the Vatican included one “in pectore” — meaning kept close “in the heart” or secret — the identity of whom the pope has not revealed. It is usually reserved for those who would be endangered if their identities were known by repressive governments.

At the end of the ceremony watched by thousands, the new cardinals embraced and shook hands.

Twenty-six of them will join the elite group of cardinal-electors who will meet in conclave to elect the next pope after the death of John Paul II.

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