VATICAN CITY, Oct 17 (Reuters) Pope Benedict today named 23 new Roman Catholic cardinals, including an Iraqi, two Americans and others from around the world in choices he said reflected the universal nature of the 1.1-billion-member Church.
Eighteen of the 23 are under 80 years old and thus would be able to enter a conclave to elect Benedict's successor after his death. Five are over 80 and would be barred for reasons of age.
''Their selection well reflects the universality of the Church,'' Benedict told pilgrims and tourists during his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square.
Cardinals, the red-hatted ''princes'' of the Church, are the pope's closest aides. They lead major dioceses around the world, head Vatican departments and advise him on matters affecting everything from faith to finances.
The new ''cardinal electors'', who are under 80 years old, come from Italy, Argentina, the United States, Germany, Poland, Spain, Ireland, France, Senegal, India, Mexico, Brazil and Kenya.
The ceremony to install the cardinals, known as a consistory, will be held on Nov. 24 at the Vatican, the Pope said.
One of the new cardinals is Emmanuel III Delly, an Iraqi who is Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans.
Although he has just turned 80 and would not be able to enter a conclave, the honour given to Delly by raising him to the elite ranks of the Church appeared to be an attempt by the Pope to support the Christian minority in Iraq and the West Asia.
CHRISTIAN EXODUS FROM WEST ASIA The Chaldeans are Iraq's biggest Christian group. The Chaldean rite is one of the ancient rites of the Catholic Church, in full communion with Rome. Many Iraqi Chaldeans have emigrated since the war in Iraq started.
Delly has frequently warned that the West Asia, the birthplace of Christianity, could soon be emptied of its Christians because so many were emigrating to escape the violence there.
It was the second time since his election in April 2005 that the Pope has named new cardinals to put his conservative stamp on the Church. The first was in March last year when he installed 15.
The new ''electors'' include Archbishop John Patrick Foley, a former Vatican official from the United States, Daniel N DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, and Archbishop Paul Joseph Cordes, a German based in the Vatican.
Archbishops Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, Oswald Gracias of Bombay, Francisco Robles Ortega of Monterrey, Mexico, John Njue of Nairobi and Sean Baptist Brady -- Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland -- will also be electors.
Church law sets a ceiling of 120 on the number of so-called ''cardinal electors''. Benedict said he was bending the rule temporarily to have 121 cardinal electors for a period.
After next month's consistory, the total number of cardinals in the Church -- over and under 80 -- will be 202.
Benedict's predecessor John Paul broke the ceiling on cardinal electors several times, but deaths and 80th birthdays soon brought the number back to 120 or fewer. There is no limit to the number of cardinals over the age of 80.
Pope John Paul held nine consistories during his 26-year reign and created more than 200 cardinals. All but 2 of the prelates who entered the conclave following his death in April, 2005 had been made cardinals by him.
REUTERS PD RAI1853