Pope John Paul II on Thursday called on 44 new cardinals to work for unity among Christians as he completed the induction of the church princes with the gift of a gold ring.
During mass celebrated with the new recruits in Saint Peter's Square, John Paul II regretted the difficulties in uniting Christian denominations.
"Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those communities in which by virtue of God's faithfulness, his Spirit dwells," he said.
"For this primary goal the cardinals, whether as a college or individually, may and must offer their precious contribution (as they are) the primary cooperators in the ministry of unity of the Roman Pontiff," he added.
"The scarlet that they wear recalls the blood of the martyrs," he continued.
"How can we not remember that the ministry of Peter, the visible source of (Church) unity, constitutes a difficulty for the other Churches and ecclesial communities?" said the pope.
John Paul II noted that times had changed since the first millennium "when the primatial function of the Bishop of Rome was exercised without meeting resistance in the Churches of either the West or the East."
His appeal for church unity came a year after the urgent invitation he made to the heads of other churches to bridge the centuries-old east-west Christian divide by helping him reform the papacy.
But with many Christian leaders believing the Roman Catholic Church wants to impose its hegemony on other denominations, there is no sign such divisions will be overcome soon.
The ceremony outside Saint Peter's Basilica took place a day after the new cardinals took an oath of allegiance before they were given their red cardinal's hat, the biretta.
At the mass on Thursday, the cardinals one-by-one knelt before the pope who slipped the ring, carrying his coat of arms and a crucifix and symbolising the dignity of the office and their close bond with seat of Saint Peter, onto the ring finger of their right hand and embraced them.
The two-day consistory, an assembly of cardinals at which new nominations are officially confirmed, raises the number of cardinals with voting rights to 134 in a total college of 184 cardinals, the largest yet.
Cardinals lose their right to vote in a conclave after the resignation or death of the pope when they turn 80 but they can still be elected pope.
Currently, the youngest prelate in the college of cardinals is 55-year-old Vimko Pulic, and the oldest Corrado Bafile, who is 98.
Since his election in 1978, John Paul II has nominated 125 new cardinals, in a body that numbered 120 when Pope Paul VI died.
The mass celebrated by the pope and the entire group of cardinals on the second day of the consistory, the first of the new millennium and the eighth called by John Paul II, was attended by other Catholic church officials and thousands of faithful.
The pope on Wednesday called on the newcomers from 27 countries to "carry the message of salvation to the world (...) looking for the signs of the times and opening up a dialogue with every person and social body."
He also asked them to "act with fortitude, even to the point of spilling your blood for the increase of the Christian faith, for peace and harmony among the people of God, for freedom and the spread of the Holy Roman Catholic Church."
The consistory is "a great celebration for the great universal Church", he added -- VATICAN CITY (AFP)
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