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Pope appoints 37 cardinals

VATICAN CITY, Vatican City -- Pope John Paul II has named 37 new cardinals, putting perhaps one of his final imprints on the future of the Roman Catholic Church.

The 80-year-old Pope, who has been suffering from poor health in recent years, announced their names to pilgrims in St Peter's Square after his weekly blessing.

Cardinals are the elite grouping of the Roman Catholic Church from where the Pope's successor will be chosen. Those under 80 can enter a secret conclave to elect the next Pope from among themselves after the death of the Pontiff.

Only seven of the new cardinals are Italian, increasing the possibility that the Polish-born Pope's successor also will be a non-Italian.

CNN's Wolf Achtner reports on the group most likely to choose the next pope

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The new cardinals

Since the Pope traditionally promotes prelates who agree with his teachings, the appointments increase the possibility that his successor will be a conservative who will not tamper with controversial rulings such as bans on contraception and women priests.

Cardinals are the Pope's closest advisers in Rome and around the world. The new cardinals come from the Vatican bureaucracy as well as from Europe, the United States, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere.

The Pope said: "The list reflects the universality of the Church." He said he would soon disclose the names of the cardinals he named "in pectore" or secretly, when he last created cardinals in 1998.

Popes use this formula if a public announcement might endanger the prelate or the local church. Secret cardinals have previously been named in China and the former Soviet Union.

The ceremony to elevate the new cardinals, known as a consistory, will be held on February 21. After the consistory, the Pope will have appointed all but 10 of the 128 "cardinal electors" under 80 who will be allowed to enter the conclave to elect his successor.

By allowing the number of cardinal electors to rise to 128, the Pope was bending the rules established by Pope Paul VI, who set a limit of 120 for cardinal electors.

After the consistory, the total membership of the College of Cardinals will be 178.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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