Pope Francis has added 13 new cardinals to the top of the Catholic hierarchy, telling them they must show God's compassion to those who suffer to be faithful to their ministry.
Francis presided over a ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday, elevating churchmen who share his pastoral concerns at a time when his pontificate is under fire from conservatives within the College of Cardinals itself.
Among the 13 are 10 cardinals who are under age 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave, increasing the likelihood that a future pope might end up looking an awful lot like the current one. These are churchmen who care for migrants, promote dialogue with Muslims and minister to the faithful in poor, far-flung missionary posts.
With Saturday's consistory, Francis will have named 52% of the voting-age cardinals. Many hail from churches in the developing world, a sign of Francis' desire to mirror the universal face of the Catholic Church in its leadership ranks.
"If I don't feel it, how can I share it, bear witness to it, bestow it on others?" he asked in his homily. "So many disloyal actions on the part of ecclesiastics are born of the lack of a sense of having been shown compassion, and by the habit of averting one's gaze, the habit of indifference."
The consistory comes at a fraught time in Francis' six-year papacy. Opposition is mounting among conservative Catholics who disapprove of his emphasis on the environment, migrants and other issues rather than the doctrinaire focus of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.
Francis has acknowledged criticism in the U.S. church but shown no sign that such conservative outrage is hampering his agenda.
A Canadian priest elevated Saturday, Cardinal Michael Czerny, said he thinks the criticism is coming from a small fringe with vested interests in developing the Amazon and pursuing other priorities incompatible with the pope's vision.
"He's meeting with some loud opposition. I don't think it's so much," Czerny told The Associated Press ahead of the consistory. "I think it's loud."