Vincent Nichols becomes a cardinal in Rome ceremony

media captionPope Francis told his new cardinals their appointments were not a promotion but to help them serve

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has become a cardinal at a ceremony in Rome.

Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols was created a cardinal by Pope Francis in the first such appointments of his papacy.

Cardinals, who wear red hats and robes, are the most senior clergymen in the Roman Catholic Church below the Pope.

The former Pope Benedict XVI attended the ceremony at St Peter's Basilica, greeting his successor with an embrace.

It was the first time the pair had appeared together at a liturgical ceremony since Pope Benedict resigned a year ago.

Cardinal Nichols is one of 19 new cardinals and will be eligible to elect future popes, until he reaches the age of 80.

During the ceremony, known as a consistory, the 68-year-old knelt before the Pope and had a scarlet biretta placed on his head. He also received the cardinalatial ring and was embraced by the Pope.

The reason the biretta is red is to symbolise the wearer's willingness to give his life for the Catholic faith.

According to custom, each new cardinal is also appointed titular bishop to a church in Rome.

Cardinal Nichols was assigned the church of The Most Holy Redeemer and St Alphonsus.

During the ceremony, the new cardinals promised to be faithful to the Pope.

Pope Francis prayed for "peace and reconciliation for peoples currently experiencing violence and war".

'Great joy'

Beforehand, Cardinal Nichols had told the BBC: "When I first heard the news of the appointment, I was filled with trepidation.

"But since then, I have been so heartened by the encouragement and support I have been offered."

He noted that relatively few of the new cardinals were from European countries, adding that the Pope was "broadening the perspectives of those who advise him".

Cardinal Nichols said the new cardinals would "assist Pope Francis in his ministry to the worldwide Catholic church".

"Those who wear these robes are proclaiming their readiness to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ even to the shedding of their blood. Today, then, has a more sombre side.

"But it remains a moment of great joy and enjoy it to the full I will."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionCardinal Nichols received a red biretta during the ceremony
image copyrightAFP/getty
image captionFormer Pope Benedict XVI made a rare appearance
image copyrightAFP/getty
image captionThe former and present popes greeted each other warmly

After the ceremony, receptions are held in the Vatican.

They are often held on the first floor of the Apostolic Palace, but they have also been held in the Audience Hall and Vatican Museum.

The Pope and the 19 new cardinals - who come from 15 different countries, including South Korea, Ivory Coast and Burkino Faso - will celebrate Mass in St Peter's Basilica on Sunday.

Cardinal Nichols is the 11th Archbishop of Westminster to receive the honour of becoming a cardinal.

The archbishop, who was born in Liverpool, has recently been critical of the government's benefit changes.

Earlier this month, he called the coalition's welfare reforms a "disgrace" that had left vulnerable people facing "hunger and destitution".

Cardinal Nichols has said his new role will enable him "on behalf of all, to serve the pope in a direct and prolonged way".

More on this story