John Paul II and Future Pope Selection

Friday, April 08, 2005

Filippo Monteforte/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, pronounced a prayer before the coffin of Pope John Paul II during the funeral

A Time for Mourning, but Also for Study and Very Quiet Politics

ROME, April 8 – Pope John Paul II’s funeral Mass on Friday began nine days of spiritual mourning, but it also opened a political chapter – the subtle campaigning before the gathering of cardinals in a conclave starting April 18 to elect a successor.

Each day of mourning is marked by a Mass, several of which will be celebrated by cardinals – whose voices will be listened to closely for any hints about what direction they are moving in. The first is on Saturday afternoon, to be celebrated by Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, a career Vatican official who is the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica.

In the days before the conclave begins, it is very likely that the cardinals will begin to conduct quiet research on who they think would make the best leader of the church. Some may even, in the softest of Roman ways, lobby for the job, although any sign of eagerness could have a negative effect.

Others, particularly cardinals from countries far from Italy or those who do not travel much, will be using the time to get acquainted with one another. Members who speak the same language could very well caucus, suggested Cardinal Avery Dulles, a theologian who teaches at Fordham University in New York. Those who are not native to the same language will probably communicate in Italian, said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the archbishop of Westminster.

He said he "sometimes struggles with names," but he knew most of the cardinals from sitting on a number of Vatican congregations and taking part in frequent meetings with many of them. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor also said that the cardinals were certainly "grateful to be part of history." Indeed, all eyes will be on them.

Almost all of the 117 cardinals who will place their ballots in a special vessel in the Sistine Chapel were in Rome on Friday. They are living in their national or regional seminaries, like the Pontifical North American College, religious order residences or hotels. Cardinal Edward M. Egan, archbishop of New York, is staying at the elegant Grand Hotel de la Minerve as a guest of the owner, a friend. It is his usual haunt in Rome.

Until the conclave starts a week from Monday, with a morning Mass and afternoon procession from the Hall of Benedictions in the Apostolic Palace to the Sistine Chapel, they have free rein of the city and the Vatican. When the conclave starts, they will be sequestered in the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence, which John Paul had built to provide some comfort for cardinals in conclave.

Once in Santa Marta and engaged in the election, they can go outside, Vatican officials said, but must stay on Vatican grounds and take care not to come into contact with any outsiders, Archbishop Piero Marini, the master of papal ceremonies, told reporters during the week.

In previous conclaves, the cardinals stayed in temporary quarters in the Apostolic Palace, sleeping in divided rooms and sharing bathrooms.

For now, the cardinals have other ways to communicate apart from chance meetings or social encounters. They will continue to meet as a body every morning, as they have since the pope’s death, to conduct church business. And each day, many will probably attend the Masses of mourning, in the period before the conclave called the Novemdiales.

Each Mass will be celebrated by a cardinal or archbishop, including Cardinal Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, whose appointment caused a stir among American Catholics because of his role in dealing with the priest sex abuse scandal.

The other cardinals celebrating the Masses are Camillo Ruini, the pope’s vicar for Rome and one of the most influential Italian bishops; Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, the former prefect in charge of liturgy; Eugênio de Araújo Sales, the former archbishop of Rio de Janeiro; and Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir of Lebanon, the patriarch of the Maronite Church. The latter two cardinals are older than 80, making them ineligible to vote.

Also celebrating Masses are Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, a high official in the office of the secretary of state, and Archbishop Piergiorgio Silvano Nesti, the secretary of the Vatican department in charge of religious orders.

The cardinals’ homilies in those Masses could be rare opportunities to hear from them. They were fairly accessible to the news media in the week after the pope’s death. But several cardinals said there was a general opposition to giving interviews next week. Italian newspapers reported that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the dean of the cardinals, suggested they keep silent, to avoid speculation.

"It is a time for spiritual reflection and special prayer," said Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia.

The cardinals have another important appointment next week. John Paul, in his 1996 blueprint for handling papal transitions, said two churchmen must deliver to the cardinals "well-prepared meditations on the problems facing the church at the time and the need for careful discernment in choosing the new pope."

The Vatican announced that the first, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, would deliver his talk on Thursday. Father Cantalamessa entered the public eye on March 25, Good Friday, when he spoke during a service in St. Peter’s Basilica, when the pope was gravely ill, saying: "Come back soon, Holy Father. Easter isn’t Easter without you."

The other will be given by an eminent theologian, Cardinal Thomas Spidlik, a Czech-born Jesuit, on the conclave’s first day. Cardinal Spidlik, at 85, is too old to vote. He was elevated to cardinal two years ago.

The cardinals will also have scripture and other religious writings to reflect upon, but they may bring other reading material, too.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said he would certainly be bringing "pious" books, but also some secular works. "It’ll be a sort of Brontë," he said, "or Jane Austen."

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