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Update 3: Prospero Grech elevated to Cardinal

Prospero Grech has been elevated to Cardinal in a ceremony at St Peter's Basilica in Rome this morning,

The Basilica provided the appropriate backdrop for the Papal ceremony, during which Pope Benedict XVI appointed 22 new Cardinals.

Maltese eyes were firmly locked on Cardinal Grech, the 86-year-old Augustinian scholar who became the second Cardinal in Maltese history.

A bitter cold melted away into the first vestiges of spring sunshine this morning, with queues snaking around St Peter's square from early in the morning.

The Cardinal-designates approached the Pope one-by-one, professed their faith and allegiance and kneeled. In turn, they each received their red skull caps and Cardinals' hats, and wereassigned a titular church here in Rome to serve as protectors of.

Cardinal-elect Grech has been given the titular church of Santa Maria Goretti in Rome.

Each of the designates embraced the Pontiff, and then proceeded to greet their new colleagues within the College of Cardinals.

The ceremony, which also saw seven men canonised as saints, has been clouded by embarrassing leaks of internal documents alleging financial mismanagement in Vatican affairs, and reports in the Italian media of political jockeying among church officials who, sensing an increasingly weak pontiff, are already preparing for a conclave.

Today's consistory brought to 125 the number of cardinals aged under 80 who are eligible to vote in a papal election. In all, the College of Cardinals now numbers 213.

Pope Benedict, who turns 85 in April, spoke in a strong voice as he told the cardinals they will be called upon to advise him on the problems facing the church.

In remarks at the start of the service, he recalled that the red colour of the three-pointed hat, or biretta, and the scarlet cassock that cardinals wear symbolises the blood that cardinals must be willing to shed to remain faithful to the church.

"The new cardinals are entrusted with the service of love: love for God, love for his church, an absolute and unconditional love for his brothers and sisters even unto shedding their blood, if necessary," Benedict said.

At the end of his remarks, Pope Benedict said: "And pray for me, that I may continually offer to the people of God the witness of sound doctrine and guide holy church with a firm and humble hand."

Of the 22 new cardinals, seven are Italian, adding to the eight voting-age Italian cardinals named at the last consistory in November 2010. As of today, Italy will have 30 cardinals out of the 125 under 80.

That boosts Italy's chances of taking back the papacy for one of its own following decades under a Polish and a German pope, or at least playing the kingmaker role if an Italian papabile, or papal candidate, does not emerge.

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