Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday elevated 24 new Cardinals from around the world, bringing them into an elite club which will eventually elect his successor.

The giant St Peter's Basilica rang with the cheers and applause of the congregation as he read out each name before they filed in their scarlet robes through the church.

The 83-year-old pontiff praised them as “pastors who rule with zeal important diocesan communities” and those who had “served with exemplary fidelity the Church and the Holy See”.

The Pope announced the names during a general audience in St Peter's Square last month, saying their varied nationalities “reflects the universality of the Church”. Known as the “Princes of the Church”, the new Cardinals' robes evoked their traditional pledge to serve the Church until their last drop of blood. Twenty of them, aged under 80, become members of the College of Cardinals, who will elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor.

The list is dominated by European clergy but Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Egypt and Zambia are also represented.

With St Peter's pews packed with supporters and compatriots of the various Cardinals, Saturday's joyous ceremony to create new “Princes of the Church” was in stark contrast to the solemnity of a “day of prayer and reflection” the previous day when more than 150 Cardinals dwelt on the challenges facing the Church. The Cardinals also held talks on “the Church's response to sexual abuse cases” on Friday evening.

The issue of abuses by priests and cover-ups by Bishops has exposed a raw nerve among many ordinary Catholics who are dissatisfied with the Vatican's handling of the issue and has put Church authorities on the defensive.

“I'm tired of talking about this topic. I've had it up to here,” Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan told reporters on the sidelines of the Friday's talks.

“It's a real media storm,” he said. — AFP