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Pope urges compassion in elevating 13 like-minded cardinals

Pope Francis congratulated new Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot after his appointment on Saturday at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
Pope Francis congratulated new Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot after his appointment on Saturday at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.AFP via Getty Images

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis added 13 new cardinals to the top of the Catholic hierarchy on Saturday, telling them they must show God’s compassion to those who suffer to be faithful to their ministry.

Francis presided over the ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica, elevating churchmen who share his pastoral concerns at a time when his pontificate is under fire from conservatives within the College of Cardinals itself.

Among the 13 are 10 cardinals who are under age 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave, increasing the likelihood that a future pope might end up looking an awful lot like the current one. These are churchmen who care for migrants, promote dialogue with Muslims, and minister to the faithful in poor, far-flung missionary posts.

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With Saturday’s consistory, Francis will have named 52 percent of the voting-age cardinals. Many hail from churches in the developing world that never have had a “prince’’ representing them, in a sign of the pope’s desire to mirror the universal face of the Catholic Church in its leadership ranks.

Francis was in many ways preaching to the choir when he urged the new cardinals to both feel and share God’s compassion, saying it was an “essential” part of understanding God’s love for the weakest.

‘‘If I don’t feel it, how can I share it, bear witness to it, bestow it on others?’’ he asked in his homily. “So many disloyal actions on the part of ecclesiastics are born of the lack of a sense of having been shown compassion, and by the habit of averting one’s gaze, the habit of indifference.’’

The consistory comes at a fraught time in Francis’ six-year papacy. Opposition is mounting among conservative Catholics who disapprove of his emphasis on the environment, migrants, and other issues rather than the doctrinaire focus of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

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Yet in a sign of continuity with the past pope, Francis and the new cardinals made a pilgrimage across the Vatican gardens after the ceremony Saturday evening to call on Benedict, who gave them his blessing, the Vatican said.

Francis has acknowledged criticism in the US church but shown no sign that such conservative outrage is hampering his agenda. After he stacks the College of Cardinals with more like-minded men, he will on Sunday open a three-week meeting on better ministering to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region.

Right-wing groups backed by a handful of conservative cardinals have come out in force against the Amazon synod’s environmental emphasis, saying it amounts to a heretical attempt to create a new ‘‘pagan’’ religion.

A Canadian priest elevated Saturday, Cardinal Michael Czerny, said he thinks the criticism is coming from a small fringe with vested interests in developing the Amazon and pursuing other priorities incompatible with the pope’s vision.

“He’s meeting with some loud opposition. I don’t think it’s so much,” Czerny said. ‘‘I think it’s loud.’’

Czerny is a Francis favorite, someone in whom the pope sees a cardinal he can entrust his most important dossiers. Czerny has worked since 2010 in the Vatican’s justice office, where he helped draft Francis’ major environmental encyclical. In 2016, Francis made Czerny his personal point man on migrant issues, and the pectoral cross he sported Saturday showed he took the mission to heart: It was made of wood from a migrant ship.

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Other prelates with experience in another of Francis’ agenda items — relations with Islam — also received red hats, including the head of the Vatican’s interfaith relations office, Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot.