Cardinals need to know each other because when Francis resigns or dies, they will have to choose his successor from among their ranks. Given the rarity of such gatherings, this is one of their best chances to gather, edify each other, and form ideas about the future direction of the Catholic Church.
“This is not casting [call]but we need this moment,” said Cardinal Cristobal López Romero, the Spanish-born archbishop of Rabat, Morocco. “Sooner or later we have to choose the next pope. So we have to hear each other, we have to know each other.”
The Vatican says 197 of the world’s 226 cardinals traveled to Rome this week – a remarkable percentage given the age of the group’s members. (Only cardinals under the age of 80—there are currently 132—are eligible to participate in the conclave where the pope is elected.)
When Francis created new members – although cardinals generally meet in significant numbers at the Vatican – he did so eight times during his papacy – there was no construction in 2021, as is known. In 2020, participants were limited. pandemic As a result, this is the first major meeting of cardinals since 2019, at a time when the end of Francis’ pontificate seemed a more distant concept. Some church observers say you have to go back even further to 2015 to find a time when cardinals gathered in similar numbers at the Vatican.
In four months, Francis will turn 86, an age reached by only one other sitting pope since the 1800s: Leo XIII, sitting at age 93 back in 1903. Although he was in stable health for most of his papacy, he underwent colon surgery last year. and says he still feels residual “marks” from the general anesthesia. And lately, he’s been in a wheelchair most of the time because of knee pain. Although nothing prevented him from ruling the church, events reminded him of the frailty of old age and fueled questions about its longevity.
Francis said last monththe door is open” to retire when his health made it impossible for him to manage the church. But he said that he has not yet reached that limit.
“It doesn’t mean that I don’t start thinking after tomorrow [about it]right?” Francis said. “But now, honestly, no.”
In earlier times of the church, Francis was expected to continue serving until his death. But the stunning resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 created an alternative for modern popes.
Every time Francis steps down, several important questions arise for the cardinals who will choose his replacement. One is whether Francis will find a successor who shares his vision for a more inclusive church. Francis, whose pontificate of more than nine years has helped make such a scenario more likely, as his appointees now make up 63 percent of voting-age cardinals, according to Vatican statistics. Again, conclaves are unpredictable. Not all cardinals chosen by Francis share his worldview. The support of cardinals chosen by more conservative predecessors Benedict and John Paul II would still be needed to meet the two-thirds threshold for any future pope.
Another question has to do with geography – will the next Pope be non-European. Before Francis, who is from Argentina, the church chose European pontiffs for more than that It lasts for 1000 years. But as the church withered in Europe, its geographic heartland shifted to places like Latin America and Africa. Francis has made the body of would-be electors less European with the cardinals he has chosen over the years. Francis’ last group of cardinals represents places like East Timor, Colombia and Nigeria.
On Monday, cardinals will hold two days of talks on the Vatican’s new constitution, published in March, which amounts to a reorganization of the church’s bureaucracy. But there is also enough time for brotherhood. Their time in Rome coincides with the city’s shutdown in August, with Romans fleeing the city to the mountains and beaches, and many cafes and restaurants closed. The streets around the Vatican are filled with a mix of tour groups and high-ranking prelates.
López Romero said in an interview that he had more time to have lunch with Cardinal Robert Sara of Guinea and to pray with her. The youngest cardinal, Giorgio Marengo, 48, an Italian who served in Mongolia for many years, said his hopes for the coming days were “very simple” – to get to know the other cardinals better.
“You have people coming from persecuted churches. Theologians,” said Marengo. “I hope these days will help me learn [from them].”
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