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Cardinals head to Vatican for conclave

From every corner of the world, the red-robed "princes" of the Church headed toward the Vatican on Saturday to prepare for the secret duty they were appointed to carry out: gathering in the Sistine Chapel to elect the successor for the late Pope John Paul II.

It's a process steeped in centuries-old rituals and arcane traditions, such as precise rules for how to bind together the tallied papal ballots with a needle and thread. But modern forces also are at play - including stronger voices from outside Europe among the College of Cardinals that could shape the outcome of the conclave.

Asians, Africans and Latin Americans account for 44 of the cardinals under 80 years old - the condition for participating in the conclave and voting for the pope - compared with 58 from Europe. The United States, which could play an important swing role, has 11 cardinals among the 117 papal electors - the largest group that will ever decide on the next pontiff when the conclave begin later this month.

It's almost certain the next pope will be among them: although technically the cardinals can select any baptised male Catholic, the last time they looked outside their elite group was 1378.

Many cardinals have been living here working in Vatican posts. Others cut short trips or cancelled plans and began heading to Rome.

Sydney's Cardinal George Pell was leading a pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Vatican's commission for Christian unity, interrupted a visit to Bulgaria. Belgium's Cardinal Godfried Danneels quickly left China. Four American cardinals were in Rome.

The papal electors will begin daily pre-conclave meetings. They will swear fidelity to the codes of secrecy, at the implicit risk of excommunication. All the cardinals then will come together in public next week for the papal funeral Mass, which will be lead by the dean of the College of Cardinals. The others will take their places around the papal coffin in order of seniority.

The electors next assemble - no later than two weeks after the funeral, but no sooner than nine days after - to pick a successor to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

The Melbourne Herald-Sun reports that an older Australian cardinal who is ineligible to vote is "certain to be influential during the meetings held before the conclave begins".

Cardinal Edward Cassidy, who turned 80 last year, will also be in Rome this week and through his work on inter-church relations has strong views on the future direction of the church.

The paper says that while Cardinal George Pell has not yet made any comments on the type of man the cardinals may choose, he has said in the past that it may be time for a Latin American pope.

Cardinals Head to Vatican for Conclave (The Guardian/Associated Press 3/4/05)
kkkPell set to cast his vote (Herald-Sun 4/4/05)

4 Apr 2005