Pope Francis said Sunday he will create 13 new Catholic cardinals next month, including the first African-American "prince of the church" and a Franciscan preacher to the papal household.
The 13 include Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory, 72, a progressive who will be the first African-American cardinal, and Italian priest Raniero Cantalamessa, 84, who has served as preacher to three papal households.
The Pontiff made the surprise announcement from his window overlooking Saint Peter's Square at the end of his weekly Angelus, and said they would be appointed on November 28.
It will be "an unusual and possibly unprecedented ceremony, held during the midst of a continuing global pandemic", Vatican expert Joshua McElwee said in the National Catholic Reporter.
The Vatican has been on high alert over the health of the pope, 83, after a flurry of cases within the tiny city state, and such a ceremony could present risks for elderly participants.
Nine of the new cardinals are under 80 years old, and therefore eligible to take part in the secret conclaves to elect the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, who is chosen from among them.
As well as having that key role, cardinals, who wear red hats and are known as "princes" of the Roman Catholic church, often also hold the highest administrative offices in the centuries-old institution.