VATICAN CITY – Retired Pope Benedict XVI joined Pope Francis in a ceremony Saturday creating the cardinals who will elect their successor in an unprecedented blending of papacies past, present and future.
Benedict entered St. Peter’s Basilica surrounded by a small entourage and was greeted with applause and tears from the stunned people in the pews.
He smiled, waved and seemed genuinely happy to be there, taking his seat in the front row, off to the side, alongside the red-draped cardinals.
It was the first time Benedict and Francis have appeared together at a public liturgical ceremony since Benedict retired a year ago and became the first pope to step down in more than 600 years.
After processing down the central aisle at the start of the service, Francis went directly to Benedict, clasped him by his shoulders and they embraced.
The crowd erupted in polite applause again when one of the new cardinals, Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, greeted Benedict in his introductory remarks, saying “We are grateful for your presence here among us.”
Benedict, dressed in his white cassock with a long double-breasted overcoat, again smiled and waved.
The occasion for this historic first was Francis’ first cardinal-making ceremony to formally welcome 19 new “princes of the church” into the College of Cardinals.
He is making his imprint on the group who will elect his successor, tapping like-minded cardinals from some of the world’s smallest, most remote and poverty-wracked nations to help him run the Catholic Church.
Two hail from Africa, two from Asia and six from Francis’ native Latin America, which is home to nearly half the world’s Catholics but is grossly underrepresented in the church’s hierarchy.