VATICAN CITY, Feb. 21 (AP) - In a sunlit ceremony of ancient ritual in St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II on Wednesday installed a record number of cardinals - 44 new princes of the Roman Catholic Church.

With some cardinals popping on sunglasses against the glare, John Paul, in a sometimes slurred voice, read out loud the names of men from 27 countries and five continents - a diversity that reflects the church's geographic shift.

The tens of thousands of admirers sent up particularly rousing cheers when he read the names of the new U.S. cardinals, theologian Avery Dulles and Archbishops Edward Egan of New York and Theodore McCarrick of Washington. Another U.S. citizen in the group is Ukrainian-born Lubomyr Husar.

Many of the cardinals beamed in delight as they approached the pope to receive their red hats. With the ceremony, the total number of cardinals rises to 184.

The red color reserved for cardinals represents the challenge the pope presents them when he bestowed the three-cornered hat, or biretta: ``Be ready to spill blood if need be to spread the faith.''

``Every Christian knows he is called to a faithfulness without compromise, which can require even the extreme sacrifice,'' the pope said in his homily.

John Paul told the new cardinals: ``Your service to the church expresses itself in lending the successor of St. Peter your assistance and collaboration to relieve the burden of a ministry that extends to the ends of the Earth.''

Behind the unchanging ritual, he noted the changing face of the Catholic church at the start of its third millennium - less European, more developing world where the faith is growing.

``Is this not also a sign of the ability of the church, already in every corner of the planet, to understand peoples with different traditions and languages?''

John Paul, now in the 23rd year of his papacy, has worked to boost the ranks of the cardinals and their geographical diversity.

In naming a record number of cardinals this time around, he ignored the limits set by predecessor Paul VI on the number of cardinals younger than 80 and therefore eligible to vote for the next pontiff.

``He probably was trying to satisfy the needs of a rapidly expanding church around the world,'' said Dulles, of Fordham University in New York.

With Wednesday's ceremony, the number of voting-age cardinals jumps from 120 to 135.

All but 10 were appointed by this pope. Most share his conservative views on sexual and other morality matters and liberal ideas on social justice issues such as workers' rights.

For centuries, Italians were virtually synonymous with the Vatican and the Krakow bishop's election in 1978 as the first non-Italian pontiff in 455 years shocked many. The Polish pope has continued to ``internationalize'' the church hierarchy.

Out of 184 cardinals, 51 are from the Americas. Europe has 96 - 40 from the Italians - but many are aging and not eligible to vote in the conclave. The number of voting-age Europeans is 65 versus 40 from the Americas.

Only 24 Italians are electors. Latin America, which has about 40 percent of the world's 1 billion Catholics, now has 27 cardinals of voting age.

Among the new Latin American cardinals is one of the youngest and some observers say he has a shot at being the next pontiff: Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, 58, the first cardinal from Honduras.

Like many in the College of Cardinals, he skirted questions about the next conclave.

``Only the Holy Spirit knows,'' he said in an Associated Press interview, using the standard response to conclave questions.

``I'm not considered `papabile' (a papal contender),'' he hastened to add. ``Those were the words of some friends.''

A few days earlier, another new Latin American cardinal was more frank.

Caracas Archbishop Ignacio Antonio Velasco Garcia said the next pope would likely be from Latin America. Then he even raised his hand to show how he'd vote.

Cardinals have been the sole electors of the pontiff for nearly 1,000 years and it remains their most important job. However, since popes serve for life, conclaves to choose a new pontiff are rare. John Paul has named 201 cardinals during his papacy. Forty-one never lived to see a conclave.

Day-by-day, cardinals are busy with other duties: advising the pontiff and helping run an immense world institution.

Some serve as Vatican bureaucrats. Others serve far from Rome, as diplomats or local administrators. A few lead quiet lives as scholars. One, an 89-year-old Pole, is a humble missionary in Zambia.

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