The College of Cardinals’ fifth General Congregation
At this morning’s daily press briefing with journalists, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi provided the most awaited information first: “No decision regarding the starting date of the Conclave has yet been made.” The Director of the Holy See Press Office further noted that he considered it “unlikely” that a decision would be reached at the Congregation held this afternoon, adding, however, that the matter remains uncertain.
Lombardi denied reports that the Papal Master of Ceremonies has reserved St. Peter’s Basilica this Monday for the celebration of the Pro eligendo Summo Pontifice Mass, which normally precedes the beginning of a Conclave. Addressing reporters gathered at the Press Office, he emphasized the need to verify facts in light of present rumors. He explained, in fact, that while the Chair of Peter is vacant, all priests may celebrate a Eucharistic liturgy to implore the Holy Spirit’s light and guidance in choosing a good Pope. Therefore, Lombardi pointed out, “thousands of Pro eligendo Summo Pontifice Masses may be celebrated.”
A total of 152 cardinals were present at Thursday morning’s fifth General Congregation, 114 of whom are electors. Only one cardinal (from Vietnam) has yet to reach Rome. His arrival is expected this afternoon.
During the Congregation this morning, three new Cardinal Assistants were chosen by lot to replace the first Cardinal Assistants, whose three-day term expired today. The Assistants chosen were: from the Order of Bishops, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, O.M.M., Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Lebanon; from the Order of Priests, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; and from the Order of Deacons, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, C.S., President Emeritus of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.
At today’s meeting, the Dean of the College, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, also read the draft of a telegram of condolence to be sent for the death of Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, on behalf of the entire College of Cardinals.
Sixteen interventions were offered this morning. The first three were presented by those responsible for the finances and patrimony of the Holy See: Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, President of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, President of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA); and Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Governorate of Vatican City State.
Each gave a brief report in their area of competence – Lombardi explained – in accordance with the provisions outlined in No. 171, § 2 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, which requires the Camerlengo to provide reports on the Holy See’s patrimonial and economic status to the College of Cardinals.
These reports contain the same information that is included in the financial statements normally published by the Holy See in July. In the Congregations, the cardinals are provided with brief overviews about which they may naturally request further clarification.
The total number of interventions given to date has therefore risen to 67. However, there are still many on the waiting list.
The issues addressed thus far have included the New Evangelization, the problems facing the Church, the organization of the Holy See, and the profile of the new Pope. Today, the Cardinal Fathers also covered the topics of ecumenism and the Church’s charitable efforts and attention to the poor.
Lombardi noted that there is also an ample break time when the Cardinal Fathers can meet with one another, exchange opinions among themselves and make appointments for further clarification.
Cutting short journalists’ questions regarding possible discussions going on in the Synod Hall about the Vatileaks scandal, Lombardi said: “I do not have to tell you that the cardinals are preparing for their task of electing a new Pope by asking for whatever information they deem necessary, whether it regards Vatileaks or any other important issue. Many topics may reasonably be imagined. There is an across the board activity of reflection and information-gathering going on”.
Lombardi added that the cardinals are called to decide “a question that makes the Church hold her breath; and it is the reason for which they were created cardinals”. For a conclave, we need to wait until the “reflection is ripe.”