Cardinals Gather in St. Peter's to Pray for the Conclave

One by one the cardinals arrived in St. Peter’s basilica for this evening’s prayers for the conclave, braving a gale of strong winds and heavy rain that has been buffeting Rome all day.

A number of them chose to arrive on foot through the main entrance, just like ordinary members of the public, but any attempt to enter unnoticed would be thwarted as their scarlet fascia and zucchetti would attract passers-by and well-wishers.

Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, was one of those who came through the main entrance. Asked if he would comment on the conclave, he very graciously said he would have to decline as he and all his confreres have now been sworn to secrecy.

By 5pm, all the cardinals were seated – a dramatic image of a sea of scarlet in front of the cordoned-off Altar of the Cathedra in the apse of the basilica. Very symbolically, Bernini’s Baroque stained-glass window, with its central dove and rays of sun denoting the Holy Spirit, towered above them.

Around 500 faithful including a significant number of religious were allowed to join the cardinals in prayer, and stretched back to the baldacchino.

The celebration began with the recitation of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary in Italian and Latin, followed by Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. After 15 minutes or so of adoration, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the basilica, presided over a simple recitation of Vespers  in Latin. The rite concluded with Eucharistic Benediction.

No words were spoken; this was simply a chance for the cardinals and faithful present to recollect and pray for the upcoming conclave. And many found the ceremony deeply moving – an opportunity to join in prayer with the cardinal electors and the many faithful around the world during this momentous time for the Church. It also didn’t escape those present that the next Successor of Peter will most likely have been among those also praying for the best outcome of this conclave this evening, at the apse of the basilica, just a few yards away from St. Peter’s tomb.


At today’s daily Vatican press briefing, Fr. Federico Lombardi made the following points about the general congregations and interregnum:

* no date for the conclave was decided upon during the fourth General Congregation his morning. Fr. Lombardi said it still wasn’t known when an announcement would be made but that the delay was due to a willingness not to rush the proceedings. However, the congregations will now be taking place in the morning and afternoon to “intensify” the discussions.

“The College has a great spirit of preparation that is serious, profound, and unhurried,” Fr. Lombardi said. “Perhaps that is why it still did not seem opportune to take a vote on the date of the Conclave, which a large part of the College could sense as something forced in the dynamic of reflection. It also needs to be kept in mind that some cardinals are still arriving and it would be a sign of respect for them to wait until the College is complete.”

* 153 cardinals were present, including 113 cardinal electors. Two electors were still absent: Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw (he arrived this evening) and Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Phạm Minh Mẫn or Thanh-Pho-Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, who arrives tomorrow.

* This morning 18 cardinals addressed the gathering during which the following themes were discussed: the Church in the world, the New Evangelization, the Holy See, its Dicasteries and relations with bishops. A third theme was a profile of expectations for the next pope in view of the good government of the Church. Fr. Lombardi said a clearer picture was “emerging” of the kind of expectations the cardinals have of the next pope.

* There have been 51 speeches since the beginning of the Congregations on Monday, but given the large number of cardinals wishing to address the gathering, a five minute time limit was established but is not strictly enforced.

* A question was raised concerning the cancellation this morning of scheduled press conferences with American cardinals after the general congregations. Fr. Lombardi observed that “the Congregations are not a synod or a congress in which we try to report the most information possible, but a path toward arriving at the decision of electing the Roman Pontiff. In this sense, the tradition of this path is one of reservation in order to safeguard the freedom of reflection on the part of each of the members of the College of Cardinals who has to make such an important decision. It does not surprise me, therefore, that along this path there were, at the beginning, moments of openness and communication and that afterwards, in harmony with the rest of the College, it has been established whether and how to communicate.”

About the same time Fr. Lombardi was making those comments, the U.S. Bishops Conference issued the following statement:

“U.S. cardinals are committed to transparency and have been pleased to share a process-related overview of their work with members of the media and with the public, in order to inform while ensuring the confidentiality of the General Congregations. Due to concerns over accounts being reported in the Italian press, which breached confidentiality, the College of Cardinals has agreed not to give interviews.”

(Sister Mary Ann Walsh, media relations director at the USCCB, shares her perspective on the decision here).

The American cardinals were the only ones offering briefings during the general congregations, but even though it gave them a chance to correct some of the misleading reports, they weren’t able to share much information once the congregations had begun.

Indeed some were surprised the briefings were taking place at all, given that each cardinal had sworn, on the first day of the general congregations, to “maintain rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff or those which, by their very nature, during the vacancy of the Apostolic See, call for the same secrecy.”

But the willingness to speak as freely as possible with the media did denote one thing: an American Pope would bring much needed media savvy to the See of Peter.

* Fr. Lombardi reported that Cardinal Dean Angelo Sodano wished a happy birthday to Cardinal Walter Kasper (who turned 80 yesterday), Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio (who turns 75 today), and Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval, C.SS.R., (who turns 77 tomorrow). Cardinal Kasper continues to be a Cardinal elector—he will be the oldest to cast his vote in this Conclave—because the Apostolic Constitution regulating the procedure for electing the pontiff establishes the age limit for cardinals entering the Conclave to be determined from the beginning of the period of the Sede Vacante.

*The Vatican also confirmed that “the Fisherman's Ring has been scratched over,” that is, rendered unusable – a tradition going back to when the ring was used as papal seal.