Rome – Pope Francis warned of a “virus of polarization and hostility” within the Catholic Church and broader society on appointing 17 new cardinals in the Vatican on Saturday.

“The virus of polarization and hostility is penetrating our way of thinking, feeling and acting. We are not immune to this and we should take care that such behaviour does not take root in our heart,” the pope said.

In a ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica, he named five new European cardinals, four from North America, two from South America, three Africans, two Asians and an Oceanian.

The diverse lineup is part of a bid to raise the international profile of the Catholic Church on the eve of wrapping up the 11-month Jubilee of Mercy.

The new cardinals were appointed at an official meeting of the College of Cardinals, known as a consistory.

Two Archibishops from war-torn countries were among those in line for promotion: Mario Zenari from Syria and Dieudonne Nzapalainga of the Central African Republic, which Francis visited in December just before the start of the jubilee.

Another notable figure to join the cardinalate is Ernest Simoni, 88, a simple priest who was persecuted in Albania during the country’s communist past. Francis heard his story when he flew to Tirana in 2014.

The pope intended to visit his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery after the ceremony, with his newly ordained cardinals in tow, according to a statement from the Vatican.

Cardinals are known as the “princes” of the Catholic Church, and their main task is to elect popes. Only those aged under 80 can take part in the exercise, and 13 of the new appointees meet that requirement.

Argentina-born Francis, the first non-European pope since the 8th century, has worked to internationalise the Vatican.

Under his watch, the share of Europeans eligible to take part in the conclave, the papal election panel, has fallen from 52 to 45 per cent.

On Sunday, the pope and all cardinals were due to celebrate Mass in St Peter’s Basilica to end the Jubilee of Mercy.

Francis was to close the Holy Door, which he opened at the start of the Catholic festival on December 8, 2015.

Catholic jubilees have been celebrated since 1300. Initially they were celebrated every 100 years, but the time interval was gradually shortened to 25 years.

In addition, popes can declare “extraordinary” jubilees, like the one ending Sunday.

They offer the faithful a chance to seek a general pardon for their sins as they walk through symbolic holy doors in churches.

For the Jubilee of Mercy, they were opened not just in Rome, attracting more than 20 million pilgrims, but also across the globe.

In a Friday interview with Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, Francis said there was no “plan” behind his decision to hold the festival, except for strengthening people’s faith in God’s forgiving nature.

“Mercy is the name of God and is also his weakness,” Francis said.

“I like to think that the Allmighty has a weak memory. Once he has forgiven you, he forgets.”