VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday revealed his latest picks to be cardinals in the Catholic Church, including his chief aide for helping the poor in Rome and prelates based in Iraq and Pakistan, where Christians are a vulnerable minority.
"I am happy to announce that on June 29, I will hold a consistory to make 14 new cardinals," Francis said in surprise remarks to pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter's Square for the pope's weekly greetings from a Vatican palace window.
Eleven of the men tapped for the honor would be eligible to cast ballots in the secret conclave that would someday select Francis' successor, assuming they don't exceed the voting age limit of 80 by the time a new pope must be elected.
The latest group is the fifth batch of churchmen chosen by Francis to become cardinals since he was a cardinal from Buenos Aires elected pontiff by his peers in 2013.
He has steadily looked to the church's far-flung reaches as he stresses the worldwide nature of the Catholic flock. With the church's administrative hierarchy at the Vatican, for centuries Italian prelates had dominated the institution's offices.
The latest "princes of the church" hail from countries that include Madagascar, Peru, Mexico and Japan, which has a tiny minority of Catholics.
"The countries of provenance express the universality of the church, which continues to announce the merciful love of God to all men on Earth," Francis said.
Among the new cardinals is Louis Raphael I Sako, 69, who has been the Baghdad-based patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldeans since 2013.
Also to be made cardinal is Joseph Coutts, archbishop of Karachi, Pakistan. The 72-year-old prelate led that country's bishops' conference from 2011 through 2017.
Francis has repeatedly highlighted the plight of Christians persecuted for their faith in areas where Islamic fundamentalists have targeted them, including Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Two top Vatican officials also are among the new crop of cardinals.
One, Monsignor Luis Ladaria, 74, a Spanish dogmatic theology professor, heads the Holy See's powerful office in charge of ensuring doctrinal orthodoxy. Like the pope, Ladaria is a Jesuit.
The other is Italian Monsignor Giovanni Angelo Becciu. He became a top official in the Vatican's influential secretariat of state office after a long career as a Holy See diplomat in Africa, the United States, New Zealand and Europe. In 2009, then-pontiff Benedict XVI, appointed him as his ambassador to Cuba.
Another Italian to be made cardinal is a Rome vicar general, Monsignor Angelo De Donatis. The pope, while leader of the entire Roman Catholic church, also serves as Rome's top bishop.
Francis also chose Monsignor Konrad Krajewski, a good-natured Pole who, on behalf of the pope, has personally distributed sleeping bags to Rome's homeless on frigid nights and driven poor people to seaside day trips paid for by the Vatican.
Tapping the energetic Krajewski, 54, reflects the pontiff's determination to have the Catholic Church be known for tireless attention to those on society's margins.
Others tapped include: Monsignor Antonio dos Santos Marto, bishop of Portugal's popular shrine town of Leiria-Fatima; Monsignor Pedro Barreto, a Jesuit who is archbishop of Huancayo, Peru; Monsignor Desire Tsarahazana, archbishop of Toamasina, Madagascar; Monsignor Thomas Aquinas Manyo, who was bishop of Hiroshima before Francis made him archbishop of Osaka, Japan, in 2014; and Monsignor Giuseppe Petrocchi, archbishop of L'Aquila, an Italian mountain town struggling to recover from a 2009 earthquake that killed hundreds of people.
Francis cited three other churchmen who are too old to vote for the next pope, but he chose as cardinals because "they have distinguished themselves for their service to the church."
They are Emeritus Archbishop of Xalapa, Mexico Sergio Obeso Rivera; Spanish priest Aquilino Bocos Merino; and Monsignor Toribio Ticona Porco, a Bolivian prelate who worked as a miner to support his family before entering the seminary when he was 30.
The Vatican noted that the churchman, who was born in Atocha, Bolivia, learned all the native idioms spoken in the area he was responsible for as part of his church duties.
Frances D'Emilio is on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/fdemilio