PORT MORESBY – Papua New Guinea has had its first cardinal appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis.

Archbishop Sir John Ribat was one of 17 new cardinals appointed during the Pope’s weekly address on Sunday.

He is one of 11 new appointments from countries who have never had a cardinal before, including Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Venezuela and Mexico.

Pope Francis is the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years and said the new cardinals express the universality of the church ‘in every corner of the earth’.

Cardinals are the most senior members of the Roman Catholic Church after the Pope.

The newly elected cardinal Archbishop John Ribat, who is also the President of the Federation of Cardinals in Oceania, said he will use his new position to communicate his country’s needs to the world.

‘The church is for the poor, that is how he [Pope Francis] sees it and that is I think what is on his mind and how he wants to show it, not only to the traditional places but even to reach out to small, small places.’

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neil said it was a proud day for the country and he looks forward to welcoming the new cardinal home.

“Cardinal Ribat will continue to provide spiritual guidance and direction, as he has done through his life, but now to a much larger flock.

His new role is an enormous undertaking and will change the lives of so many around the world.”

The announcement of the Archbishop’s appointment was praised across Oceania.

New Zealand’s Cardinal John Dew said it shows the pope is committed to including smaller nations within the church.

“It’s wonderful for the people of Papua New Guinea, within which there is a significant Catholic population, but it is also great news for the Pacific and for the Church,” said Cardinal Dew.

“This is much more than a choice of geography, Archbishop Sir John Ribat is a humble, pastoral and committed leader in his country and the wider Oceania.”

13 of the elected cardinals, including Archbishop Ribat, are under the age of 80 which means they are also eligible to one day become Pope.

The Pope will formally appoint the new cardinals on the November 19, however only one will remain to work within the Vatican.

– Viki Gerova, Correspondent (Oceania)