The Church’s College of Cardinals now has 15 new members among its ranks. This morning, Pope Benedict XVI created the first cardinals of his pontificate and said that he is counting on them to support him, build up the Church and share with the world the message of the Gospel.

The new members--from 11 different countries--now bring the total number of world cardinals to 193, 120 of whom are of legal age to participate in a papal conclave.

Among them was Cardinal William Joseph Levada, former Archbishop of San Francisco and now, prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith--an office formerly held by the Holy Father himself prior to becoming Pope.

Cardinal Levada, who was the first to be incorporated today, thanked the Pope on behalf of all the others.

During his homily, delivered in St. Peter’s Square, the Holy Father explained that the Ordinary Public Consistory eloquently expresses "the universal nature of the Church, which has spread to every corner of the world in order to proclaim to all people the Good News of Christ our Savior."

He recalled his predecessor John Paul II, who celebrated nine consistories during his two and a half decade pontificate. On this, Benedict stressed that while "down the centuries the College of Cardinals has changed in many ways, nevertheless the substance and essential nature of this important ecclesial body remain unaltered."

"Total and generous availability to serve others”, he said, “is the distinctive mark of those in positions of authority in the Church."

Quoting St. Gregory the Great, the Pope called Jesus, “The first 'servant of the servants of God'."

“After him, and united with him,” he said, “come the Apostles; and among these, in a particular way, Peter. ... The Pope must be the first to make himself the servant of all."

The Holy Father then turned to address the new cardinals, telling them that now, "more closely linked to the Successor of Peter, you will be called to work together with him in accomplishing his particular ecclesial service, and this will mean for you a more intense participation in the mystery of the Cross as you share in the sufferings of Christ."

He said that the word "caritas," which was the major theme of his recent Encyclical, best summarized the significance of the call of a cardinal. "May the scarlet that you now wear always express the 'caritas Christi,' inspiring you to a passionate love for Christ, for His Church and for all humanity,” the pope said.

“You now have an additional motive to seek to rekindle in yourselves those same sentiments that led the incarnate Son of God to pour out His blood in atonement for the sins of the whole world.”

Benedict went on, telling the group, "I am counting on you, venerable brothers, I am counting on the entire College into which you are being incorporated, to proclaim to the world that 'Deus caritas est,' and to do so above all through the witness of sincere communion among Christians."

"I am counting on you”, he added, “to ensure that the principle of love will spread far and wide, and will give new life to the Church at every level of her hierarchy, in every group of the faithful, in every religious institute, in every spiritual, apostolic or humanitarian initiative."

He concluded by telling the new cardinals the he is "counting on you to see to it that our common endeavor to fix our gaze on Christ's open Heart will hasten and secure our path towards the full unity of Christians. I am counting on you to see to it that the Church's solicitude for the poor and needy challenges the world with a powerful statement on the civilization of love.”

“All this”, the Pope said, he sees “symbolized in the scarlet with which you are now invested. May it truly be a symbol of ardent Christian love shining forth in your lives."

Titular authority

Following Pope Benedict’s homily, each of the new cardinals voiced the profession of faith, swearing obedience to the Pope and his successors.

One by one, they then received the red “biretta” from the Pope as well as their assigned titular or diaconate church in Rome. The titular church assignment is largely symbolic, but expresses the cardinals’ participation in the Pope’s pastoral concern for the city.

Cardinal Levada will take possession of the Church of St. Mary in Domnica on Sunday. A large number of faithful from his former archdioceses of San Francisco and Portland are scheduled to attend.

Likewise, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the only other Cardinal from the U.S., will take possession of the Church of St. Mary della Vittoria.