By Gregory L. Tracy
This morning, Monday March 4 at 9:30 a.m., began the first in a series of meetings that will lead to the election of the next Pope.
During the meetings the Cardinals will discuss what they feel are the important issues and challenges facing the Church, set a date for the conclave and, perhaps more importantly, begin to get to know one another and form their choice of whom they will vote for in the upcoming conclave.
142 Cardinals, 103 of whom were Cardinal electors, met in two sessions during the day. The first from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the second from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The meeting was led by Cardinal Dean Angelo Sodano, accompanied by the Cardinal Camerlengo Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., and the Secretary of the College, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri.
According to the Vatican, the meeting began with prayers to the Holy Spirit followed by technical instructions on how translations and voting procedures would be handled in the drawing by lots of the three assistants to the Camerlengo who will aid in the running of the Vatican in the coming days.
The bulk of the morning meeting, the Vatican said, were taken up by the swearing of the oath of secrecy. The first portion of the oath was recited by the entire body of Cardinals then, each cardinal step forward, placed his hand on book of Gospels at the foot of the crucifix and completed the oath.
In the afternoon, Father Raniero Cantalamessa led the group in spiritual exercises, the first of two occasions required by theApostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis.
In the midday break between the two sessions Chicago Cardinal Francis George and Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl briefed the media on the day’s proceedings at the Pontifical North American College located on Rome’s Janiculum Hill overlooking the Vatican.
Similar briefings with different U. S. Cardinals are being expected to be held after each days congregations until the conclave begins.
Listen to the briefing here:
Cardinal George, who participated in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI began the briefing with an account of the morning session that coincided with the Vatican description.
Cardinal George said he was struck by the opening remarks by Cardinal Sodano.
“He said that the conclaves are held in the way they are to ensure that the Cardinals are free. That the Cardinals are free, free to stand before God and take that oath that we vote for the one we believe best suited for the office of the papacy. And are therefore free from outside pressures and hopefully free from internal pressures, too, because of the spiritual motivation that brings us there, said Cardinal George.
“The second thing he said was that the conclave should be prayerful,” he added
In his opening remarks, Cardinal Wuerl, who is taking part in his first conclave, said he found the solemnity of taking the oath of secrecy impressive.
“You take the oath promising to not reveal anything that goes on in conclave and you take it in your own name. You announce to who you are, put your hand on the gospel and swear that oath. It is very, very solemn. In the midst of 142 Cardinals doing that, there was, for me, a sense that we are beginning now an extraordinary moment in the life of the Church,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
But turning to more practical matters, Cardinal were also said he was looking forward to the “coffee breaks”. The informal encounters with the Cardinals will get to know each other and get a sense of who might be the next leader of the Church.
Despite repeated questions the media, the two Cardinals would not speculate on when the conclave might start.
In his opening remarks, Cardinal George said, “It was also said that we are to take the time necessary. Someone quoted St. Thomas of Aquinas where he said ‘you should be very slow in deliberation, and then very quick in decision-making.’ So, the decision-making is the conclave and the deliberating is the general congregations.”
He later added, “The only outside limit that is in the back of all our minds I think is Holy Week. We would like to be done before Holy Week starts and have a Pope and we can go back to our dioceses. I am sure all of us are thinking of that, but that has not been talked about that is just my opinion but I would assume others would be of that same mind.”
The Cardinals confirmed that a vote to determine a conclave date cannot be taken until all the Cardinal electors were present. According to the Vatican spokesman, 12 Cardinal electors are still on their way to Rome but are expected within the next two days.