Pope John Paul II named 30 new cardinals on Sunday, further leaving his mark on the group that will elect his successor and acting earlier than expected amid increasing concerns about his health.
The list, which includes senior Vatican officials and diocesan leaders from over 20 countries, also includes a 31st cardinal whose name wasn't given, perhaps because he works in a country where the church is oppressed.
The new "princes" of the church will receive their red hats at a ceremony known as a consistory on Oct. 21 -- a date chosen to coincide with the weeklong celebrations marking John Paul's 25th anniversary as pope.
Several names that had been circulating in the Italian media as possible new cardinals weren't on the pope's list, including that of Archbishop Sean O'Malley, who took over the Boston archdiocese to clean it up from the sex abuse scandal that rocked the US church.
O'Malley didn't refer to the omission in a statement on Sunday, instead congratulating the only American on the list, Justin Rigali, the archbishop elect of Philadelphia.
Vatican officials had previously said no consistory was expected before the end of the year, and next February had been mentioned as a possible date because the previous two consistories were held in that month.
No explanation was given for why the pope acted sooner.
Vatican officials said privately that with the College of Cardinals and heads of national bishops conferences scheduled to come to Rome for the anniversary celebrations -- as well as the pope's declining health -- an October consistory seemed opportune.
John Paul, who is 83 and suffers from Parkinson's disease, read the list of new cardinals out from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square, although he did so with great difficulty, stopping to catch his breath several times before finishing each man's title.
The College of Cardinals is mainly made up of like-minded conservatives reflecting John Paul's choices during his 25-year-papacy.
The new batch will further strengthen the pope's influence on the choice of his successor and brings to at least 135 the number of men who are under age 80 and thus eligible to vote in a papal conclave.
The new cardinals include archbishops from Nigeria, France, Sudan, Spain, Scotland, Brazil, Ghana, India, Australia, Croatia, Vietnam, Guatemala, Hungary, Canada, Italy as well as Rigali from the US, who has close personal ties with several Vatican officials because of his long years of service in Rome.
The pope also named some top Vatican officials, including the French-born foreign minister Jean-Louis Tauran and prelates from Spain, Mexico, Japan and Italy who run other Vatican offices or commissions that traditionally come with a red hat.
By naming cardinals for Viet-nam, Sudan and Nigeria, John Paul appeared to be trying to strengthen the position of his leaders in places where the Roman Catholic Church often has difficulties either with government officials or there are Muslim-Christian conflicts.
The Oct. 21 consistory will cap an enormously busy week for the pope, who will preside over an evening Mass on Oct. 16 -- the anniversary of his election -- as well as the beatification of Mother Teresa three days later.
In-between, he will have other public appearances and speeches, and now will preside over the lengthy consistory.