Cardinals need to get to know each other, because whenever 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 opportunities to gather, scale with each other, and form opinions about the future direction of the Catholic Church.
“It’s not a choice [call]”But we need this moment,” said Cardinal Cristóbal Lopez Romero, Archbishop of Rabat, Morocco, who was born in Spain. Sooner or later, we have to choose the next pope. So we need to hear each other, to know each other.”
The Vatican says 197 of the world’s 226 cardinals arrived in Rome this week – a remarkable proportion, given the advanced age of the group’s members. (Only cardinals younger than 80—at present, 132 people—are eligible to participate in a conclave that chooses the pope.)
Although cardinals generally meet in great numbers at the Vatican anytime Francis creates new members – which he did eight times during the papacy – there was no synod, as is known, in 2021. Attendance was in 2020 limited by a pandemic. As a result, this was the first major gathering of cardinals since 2019, a time when Francis’ pontificate’s end point seemed a very distant idea. Some church watchers say one has to go back even further — to 2015 — to find a moment when cardinals appear in similar numbers at the Vatican.
Within four months, Francis had turned 86, an age that only another sitting pope had attained since the 19th century: Leo XIII, who was still sitting at 93 in 1903. Although his health had been consistent throughout most of the papacy Last year, he underwent colon surgery and says he is still experiencing residual “effects” from general anaesthesia. And recently he was mostly in a wheelchair due to knee pain. While neither issue prevented him from ruling the Church, the events did stand as a reminder of the fragility of old age and may Intensive questions about his longevity.
Francis said last month that “the door is open“To retire in the event that his health makes it impossible for him to run the church. But he said he had not yet reached that point.
“This does not mean that the day after tomorrow I will not start thinking [about it]’Really?’ said Francis. ‘But for now, I honestly don’t.’
In earlier ages of the Church, Francis was expected to continue serving until his death. But the shocking resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in 2013 has created an alternative for contemporary popes.
When Francis leaves the job, there are many crucial questions facing the cardinals who will choose his replacement. The first is whether they will look for a successor who shares Francis’ vision for a more inclusive church. Francis, more than nine years into his tenure, helped boost the odds of such a scenario, because his appointments now represent 63 percent of voting-age cardinals, according to Vatican statistics. However, secret meetings are known to be unpredictable. Not all cardinals chosen by Francis share his view of the world. Support from cardinals chosen by their more conservative predecessors, Benedict and John Paul II, will continue to be essential for any future pope to reach the two-thirds threshold.
Another question concerns geography – will the next pope be non-European. Before Francis, an Argentine, the Church had chosen the European pope for more than 1000 years in a row. But as the church withered in Europe, its geographical heart shifted to places like Latin America and Africa. Francis, with his cardinals handpicked over the years, made the body of potential electors less European. The last batch of Cardinals represented to Francis places such as East Timor, Colombia, and Nigeria.
On Monday, the cardinals will hold two days of talks on the new constitution for the Vatican, which was published in March and marked a reorganization of the church’s bureaucracy. But there is also plenty of time for fraternity. Their time in Rome coincides with the city shutdown in August, as the Romans moved from the city to the mountains and beaches, and many cafes and restaurants closed. The streets around the Vatican are filled with a mixture of tour groups and high-ranking bishops.
Lopez Romero, in an interview, said that he had already had time to dine with Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah and pray with him. The youngest cardinal, Giorgio Marengo, 48, an Italian who has served in Mongolia for many years, said his hopes for the coming days are “very basic” – getting to know other cardinals better.
“You have people who come from persecuted churches,” Marengo said. “I hope these days you will help me learn. [from them]. “