HONG KONG (SE): Bishop John Tong Hon has been awarded a red hat by Pope Benedict XVI and will be elevated to the rank of cardinal at a ceremony in the Vatican on February 18, along with 21 others from around the world.
The pope will impose the biretta, consign the ring and assign a title. The new cardinals will concelebrate a Mass of thanksgiving with the pope on the following day.
Bishop Tong insists that it is not an honour granted to him personally, but a recognition of the important role that the diocese of Hong Kong plays as a bridge Church with China and the fact that with 350,000 Chinese out of a total Catholic population of 580,000, Hong Kong is the largest Chinese diocese in the world.
Cardinals have been associated with the colour red since the time of Pope Innocent IV (1243 to 1254). He decreed that cardinals should wear the red as a sign of their office and rank in 1246, to distinguish them from bishops, whose traditional colour is scarlet.
The hat—or biretta—is square and made out of non-flexible material. It sports three upright leaf-shaped projections and is topped with a pompom.
In shape, the cardinal’s biretta is the same as the traditional black ones once worn by priests, but these are seldom seen today.
We do see bishops wearing their scarlet ones at formal occasions and celebrations. However, if a bishop is also a cardinal, he dons a red one, in addition to the small skullcap of a bishop—a zucchetto—of matching colour, according to a 1464 ruling by Pope Paul II.
In 1568, Pope Sixtus V set the maximum number of cardinals at 70. However, setting the number is a papal discretion and in 1958, Pope John XXXIII broke with the long-standing tradition and exceeded it.
Pope Paul VI added an age limit for participation in curia affairs and heading curia offices. He included the right to join a conclave for the election of a pope under this directive, which named the cutoff point as 80-years-of-age.
He also set a limit of 120 active cardinals and added the Oriental Patriarchs to the College of Cardinals in 1965.