ROME — Attending a conclave is similar to going on a rigorous spiritual retreat that is pervaded by silence, according to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington.
“It’s like going on a very, very strong, heavy retreat,” explained Cardinal Wuerl in an interview at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
“It’s heavy in the sense of leaving aside everything else, but, this time, the retreat master is the Holy Spirit,” he said.
He believes that while the conclave is focused on the actual voting, it is also a time of prayer and being open to the Holy Spirit: “I will be. And I’m sure it will be the same for all of the cardinals there, taking this time of quiet simply to open our hearts to that voice of the Spirit.”
Cardinal Wuerl assisted a sick cardinal at the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict. Since he was made a cardinal in 2010, this will be his first conclave as an elector.
“There’s a silence that pervades the entire conclave, particularly in the Sistine Chapel,” he said.
“I think that sustaining the serenity of spirit is why the whole idea of the conclave is quietness.”
According to the cardinal, the next pope will have two major challenges: fighting secularism and being media savvy.
“Great secularism is pervading the Church and prevailing all around us, so it brings a sense of urgency that we need to be re-proposing the Gospel,” the cardinal said.
“He will need to be able to reach out through all the means of communication today, especially social communication, to be present all over the world,” he added.
Cardinal Wuerl said that, while a pope cannot be physically present worldwide, he can use social media as a way to be present electronically.
He added that the most important thing for people to do now is to pray and ask God to send the Holy Spirit on the cardinals during the conclave.
The cardinals should expect the outcome of the conclave to be “by God’s providential plan, the pope who will guide us well into the future,” said Cardinal Wuerl.
In his view, Pope Benedict’s primary legacy will be his insistence on the compatibility of faith and reason.
His pastoral ministry and his call to the New Evangelization will also be among his accomplishments, said Cardinal Wuerl. “He’s urged the entire Church to take a look at people who should be with us but have drifted away.”
“Our task is to re-propose to this very secular world a wonderful mystery, a wonderful revelation of God being with us in Christ,” he said.
Some in the media have floated the idea that Cardinal Wuerl could become the next pope, but he gives little weight to that idea.
He said, “We have to keep our focus on the realm of reality and not fantasy.”