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Filipino archbishop surges as 'papabile'
One-hundred-fifteen cardinals from the four corners of the world hear Mass at the St. Peter’s Basilica before cloistering themselves at the Sistine Chapel to elect the next leader of 1.2 billion Catholics. The chosen one will take the place of Pope Benedict XVI who resigned on February 28. Photo by AFP
Publication Date : 13-03-2013
Roman Catholic cardinals prayed for divine help yesterday before sequestering themselves in the Sistine Chapel for a conclave to elect a new Pope to tackle the daunting problems facing the Church in one of the most difficult periods in its history.
A Gregorian chant wafting through St. Peter’s Basilica, the 115 cardinal electors filed in wearing bright red vestments, many looking grim as if the burden of the imminent vote was weighing on them.
One of the youngest “papabili”, or potential candidates, is Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila. Tagle has gained a reputation as a man of the people—as bishop, he is once said to have ridden a cheap bicycle to a run-down neighbourhood in Manila, to deputise for a sick colleague.
Tagle is also one of the more media-savvy cardinals, having a presence on Facebook.
The cardinals prayed that God would inspire them to choose the right man to replace Pope Benedict XVI, who abdicated abruptly last month saying he was not strong enough to confront the woes of a Church whose 1.2 billion members look to Rome for leadership.
With only 24 per cent of Catholics living in Europe, pressure is growing within the Church to choose a Pontiff from elsewhere in the world who would bring a different perspective.
Latin American cardinals might worry more about poverty and the rise of evangelical churches than questions of materialism and sexual abuse that dominate in the West, while the growth of Islam is a major concern for the Church in Africa and Asia.
The cardinals were expected to hold their first vote late on Tuesday afternoon (Wednesday morning in Manila)—which is almost certain to be inconclusive—before retiring to the Vatican hotel for the night.
They hold four ballots a day from Wednesday until one man has won a two-thirds majority—or 77 votes.
Black smoke from a makeshift chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel will signify no one has been elected, while white smoke and the pealing of St. Peter’s bells will announce the arrival of a new Pontiff.
The Mass was the last event for the cardinals before they entered the Sistine Chapel to choose the next Pontiff before Michelangelo’s famous fresco of the “Last judgement”.
Men to beat
In his homily, Italy’s Angelo Sodano, dean of the cardinals, said they should pray “that the Lord will grant us a Pontiff who will embrace this noble mission with a generous heart”.
He called for unity within the Church and urged everyone to work with the next Pope, whoever he should be.
The secret conclave, steeped in ritual and prayer, could carry on for several days, with no clear favourite in sight.
Vatican insiders say Italy’s Angelo Scola and Brazil’s Odilo Scherer have emerged as the men to beat. The former would bring the papacy back to Italy for the first time in 35 years, while the latter would be the first non-European Pope in 1,300 years.
However, a host of other candidates from numerous nations have also been mentioned, including US cardinals Timothy Dolan and Sean O’Malley, Canada’s Marc Ouellet and Argentina’s Leonardo Sandri.
Average of 3 days
Known as the “princes of the Church”, the cardinals will only emerge from their seclusion once they have chosen the 266th Pontiff in the 2,000-year history of the Church, which is beset by sex-abuse scandals, bureaucratic infighting, financial difficulties and the rise of secularism.
Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera said there were many different views about the right profile for the next Pontiff, with some wanting an academic, others seeking someone close to the people, or else a good manager.
Asked if the conclave could therefore drag on, he said: “I do not think it will be long because there are diverse opinions. We will come to an agreement very quickly.”
The average length of the last nine conclaves was just over three days and none went on for more than five days.
Signaling the divisions among the cardinals, Italian newspapers reported an open clash between prelates in a pre-conclave meeting.
The newspapers said the Vatican hierarchy’s No. 2 under Benedict, Tarcisio Bertone, had accused Brazil’s Joao Braz de Aviz of leaking critical comments to the media. Aviz reportedly retorted that the leaks were coming from the Curia, earning loud applause.
All the red-hatted prelates were appointed by either the German-born Benedict XVI or his Polish predecessor John Paul II, and the next Pontiff will almost certainly pursue their fierce defence of traditional moral teachings.
But Benedict and John Paul were criticised for failing to reform the Vatican bureaucracy, battered by allegations of intrigue and incompetence, and some churchmen believe the next Pope must be a good chief executive or at least put a good management team in place under him.
Vatican insiders say Scola might be best placed to understand the Byzantine politics of the Vatican administration and therefore be able to introduce swift reform.
The Curia faction of cardinals working inside the Vatican bureaucracy is said to back Scherer, who worked in the Congregation for Bishops for seven years before leading Brazil’s Sao Paolo diocese.
Room of Tears
As in medieval times, the cardinals will be banned from communicating with the outside world. The Vatican has also taken high-tech measures to ensure secrecy in the 21st century, including electronic jamming devices to prevent eavesdropping.
Assuming the cardinals vote on Tuesday, the first puffs of smoke should emerge from the chapel chimney by 8pm (3am Wednesday, Manila time)—black for no pope, white if a pope has been chosen.
While few people expect a Pontiff to be elected on the first ballot, the Vatican was ready: In the Room of Tears off the Sistine Chapel where the Pope goes immediately after his election, three sizes of white cassocks hung from a clothes rack. Underneath, seven white shoe boxes were piled, presumably containing the various sizes of the red leather shoes that Popes traditionally wear.
The room gets its name from the weight of the job thrust upon the new Pontiff.
The papal tailor Gammarelli delivered the clothes on Monday to ensure that the new Pope could change immediately into papal white as soon as he accepts the election. With the words “Habemus Papam”—or “We have a pope”—the Pontiff then appears on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to greet the crowd for the first time.
Going into the vote, cardinals offered wildly different assessments of what they’re looking for in the next Pontiff and how close they are to a decision.
It was evidence that Benedict’s surprise resignation has continued to destabilise the Church leadership and that his final appeal for unity may go unheeded, at least in the early rounds of voting.
A few cardinals also sent their last tweets before entering the conclave.
“Heavenly Father, guide our hearts and grant us wisdom and strength tomorrow,” Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, considered to have an outside chance to be Pope, tweeted late Monday.
Reports from Reuters, AP and BBC