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Westminster Archbishop Vincent Nichols has described Pope Francis’ naming him a cardinal yesterday as "another step" on his life as a priest which has been "full of surprises."
Briefed the Catholic press a day after the announcement from Rome, the cardinal-designate said he would embrace his new role on behalf of the Catholic community of England and Wales, and asked for people to pray for him.
Archbishop Nichols explained the appointment was a "summons" to play a greater role in the Holy See and play a part in the exercise of the office of the Bishop of Rome.
The Archbishop, who has been in Westminster for almost five years, said yesterday that he was “deeply moved” by the appointment.
Last month the archbishop was also appointed a member of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, which plays a crucial part in the appointment of bishops.
Tributes and congratulations have poured in for the cardinal-designate, who will receive his red hat along with 18 other new cardinals, including men from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean in a consistory at the Vatican on 22 February.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was among the first to respond to the announcement, made at the Pope’s Sunday Angelus, saying that he was “delighted”.
The two archbishops travelled together to Rome in June for an audience with Pope Francis.
"Very well deserved appointment that strengthens the Church in this country,” he said on the social networking site, Twitter.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, commenting, called the cardinal-elect his “dear brother in Christ” and made reference to Nichols’ roots in Liverpool, where he was born and later served as a priest for 14 years.
He tweeted: “Archbishop Vincent Nichols is to be made CARDINAL. Red C's [cardinal’s] hat & Red shirt: Liverpool FC!”
Catholic archbishops have also paid tribute to the new cardinal.
The Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, offered his “heartiest” congratulations on behalf of “his brother bishops and the Catholic community”.
“We assure him of our prayers and ask for God’s blessing as he generously takes on these new responsibilities in assisting the Holy Father in the governance of the universal Church,” he said.
Nichols’ successor in Birmingham, Archbishop Bernard Longley, welcomed the news.
“I look forward to inviting our new cardinal to Birmingham so that we can welcome him and pray for him in his former cathedral,” he said.
The Bishop of Nottingham, Malcolm McMahon, said the appointment was an honour and a responsibility.
“The Church in England, Mary’s Dowry, and Wales has had a long and profound loyalty to the Pope, the Successor of St Peter, and this is symbolised once again in the appointment of the Archbishop of Westminster to the College of Cardinals,” he said.
Pope Francis made the announcement to hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at the end of the Angelus in St Peter's Square on Sunday.
Archbishop Nichols will become the only cardinal of voting age in England and Wales. The former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, turned 80 in 2012, making him ineligible to vote in the conclave that elected Pope Francis last year.
A highlight of his time as Archbishop of Westminster was the successful visit of then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2010; however during the same period he came under pressure from Rome for his support of the "Soho Masses" set up to support lesbian and gay Catholics and their families. He announced the end of these Masses just over a year ago.
Some commentators believe Nichols’ inclusion among new batch of cardinals is in recognition of the successful papal visit and his opposition to the gay marriage legislation passed last year.
Vincent Nichols was born in Crosby, Merseyside, in 1945 and trained at the Venerable English College, Rome. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Liverpool on 21 December 1969 and served there for 14 years before taking on a number of roles in the Catholic Bishops Conference for England and Wales.
He was named an auxiliary bishop for Westminster by Pope John Paul II in 1991 and was made a bishop in 1992, aged 46 – then the youngest in Britain. In 2000 he was made Archbishop of Birmingham, where he served until being named Archbishop of Westminster in 2009.
For a full profile of Archbishop Nichols see this week's Tablet.
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Watch Pope Francis announce the names of the new cardinals in St Peter's Square in Rome: