VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II's sixth “extraordinary consistory” of cardinals began meeting May 21 in the Vatican — eight minutes early.

The consistory, a meeting to which all 183 members of the College of Cardinals are invited, began early when the Holy Father arrived unexpectedly, startling some of the cardinals who came at the scheduled hour and found that prayers had already begun.

It may have been a sign that the Pope was eager to begin work on what some have called the Church's “agenda for a new millennium.”

“The Holy Father does not allow himself to rest — he never looks backward, only forward,” said Cardinal William Baum, the senior cardinal from the United States, noting that the Pope had just celebrated his 81st birthday and returned from a trip to Greece, Syria and Malta. “And he does not let us rest either. He does not tire of preaching the Gospel.”

“The Church listens to the Spirit in every moment, but especially in those that are decisive,” said John Paul II himself May 20, commenting on the Gospel of the day. “It was like this in the Cenacle of Jerusalem, and in the first ‘council’ that opened the doors to the pagans, and it will also be so in this consistory.”

Pastoral Priorities

This consistory was called by the Holy Father to discuss the pastoral priorities of the Church after the conclusion of the Jubilee Year. On five previous occasions the Pope has called together the cardinals to advise him on specific issues, including Curial reform, Vatican finances and contemporary threats to human life.

“The Pope told us that it is not right that the cardinals only meet when there is no pope,” said Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, speaking about the last such consis-tory in 1994, called to discuss preparations of the Year 2000.

“The well-known key of this pontificate for almost 23 years has been the Jubilee Year,” said Msgr. Timothy Dolan, Rector of the Pontifical North American College, on the eve of the consistory. “Now the question is: What must we do so that the energy of the Jubilee Year is not lost?”

Dolan also addressed the issue that has drawn most of the secular media to Rome this week — the sense that this is a “rehearsal” for the next conclave.

“It would be a mistake to think that this is the Iowa caucuses for the next conclave,” said Dolan. “But the Holy Father is a very practical man — he knows that he now has 183 cardinals, many of them brand new, and that he has to create opportunities for them to get to know one another.”

Reviewing the Jubilee

The Holy Father began the consistory by addressing the subject at hand: the Holy year.

“I pray that the Spirit of the Lord, who has allowed us to live these extraordinary ecclesial experiences, may continue to guide us and help us now to determine the challenges emerging from this epochal event,” he said

The Pope proposed to begin the consistory by listening to what the Church's leading pastors have to say.

“In these days we shall have the opportunity to listen to reflections and testimonies,” the Holy Father said.

“We shall confront in a fraternal spirit pastoral problems and challenges; together we shall look again at the most appropriate ways of being, even today, a credible sign of God's love for every man.”

Two cardinals were asked to provide brief opening reflections for the consistory's first session: Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee, and Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, now Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, but previously the secretary of the Jubilee committee.

“The Jubilee was celebrated with fervor in the official Church of China,” recalled Cardinal Etchegaray, offering his own testimony of the Jubilee experience. “In September, at the national seminary of Beijing, I was received by 120 seminarians who were wearing T-shirts with the Jubilee logo and who sang the Jubilee hymn.”

Cardinal Etchegaray reviewed the main highlights of the Jubilee Year, paying particular attention to the ecumenical and inter-religious dimensions, as well as the moments that captured the world's attention: the day of asking forgiveness, the commemoration of the 20th century martyrs, and the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Calling the “People of God” the “true protagonist” of the Jubilee, Cardinal Sepe offered a hopeful outlook for the future.

“In reality, for an event such as this there does not exist the word ‘end’,” said Cardinal Sepe. “Indeed, everything begins again with a new spirit, with fresh and reinvigorated strength after a journey which did not cause tiredness, but instead a new enthusiasm. That ‘duc in altum’ [Go out into the deep], which was proposed to the Church of the new millennium, is like a symbol stamped on the seal of a new, great phase of proclamation and of evangelization.”

Cardinal Sepe highlighted six aspects of the Jubilee Year which he offered as having the potential to build upon in the new century: E attention to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council;

E rediscovery of the holiness of the faithful, particularly in frequenting the sacraments;

E concrete steps toward practical charity and justice;

E the spirit of pilgrimage, both of the faithful and of the Pope;

E ecumenism and witnesses to the faith; and E a move toward the future with confidence, renewed by both Eucharistic and Marian devotion.

“In conclusion,” said Cardinal Sepe, “the Jubilee in Rome, the Holy Land and in the local Churches, has shown the face of a living and young Church, not at all weary from two millennia of history already traveled, and more ready than ever to confront the new challenges of the third millennium.”

Raymond de Souza writes from Rome.