In a communique released this afternoon, the Holy See Press Office has announced that the eighth General Congregation of the College of Cardinals has decided that the Conclave will begin on Tuesday, March 12.
“A ‘pro eligendo Romano Pontifice’ Mass will be celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning. In the afternoon the cardinals will enter into the Conclave,” the communique stated.
Prior to the announcement of the date, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office briefed journalists on the General Congrgations held yesterday and today.
In a gesture that was applauded by the journalists present, Fr. Lombardi began his briefing by giving a bouquet of flowers to a female journalist, while greeting all women present on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
Yesterday evening, the sixth General Congregation took place in the afternoon and was attended by 151 Cardinals. Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, metropolitan archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Cardinal Adam Joseph Maida, archbishop emeritus of Detroit, Michigan, USA, who is a non-elector, arrived yesterday and swore the oath. With Cardinal Pham Minh Man’s arrival, all 115 cardinal electors are finally present for the Conclave. Fr. Lombardi also stated that 16 interventions were delivered.
At this morning’s seventh General Congregation, the first order of business was to recognize the reasons of absence of two cardinal electors, as is indicated in n.38 of the Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis”.
According to the Constitution, “All the Cardinal electors, convoked for the election of the new Pope by the Cardinal Dean […]are required, in virtue of holy obedience, to obey the announcement of convocation and to proceed to the place designated for this purpose, unless they are hindered by sickness or by some other grave impediment, which however must be recognized as such by the College of Cardinals.”
“In this case there are two absences: Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, S.J., archbishop emeritus of Jakarta, Indonesia, for health reasons and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, ex-archbishop of Edinburgh, Scotland, for personal reasons,” Fr. Lombardi said. “The College voted to accept the absences for the reasons presented.”
Cardinal Sodano presented to the congregation the recently modified article of the Apostolic Constitution made by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in a “Motu Propio” prior to his resignation.
The “Motu Propio” states: “I furthermore decree that, from the moment when the Apostolic See is lawfully vacant, fifteen full days must elapse before the Conclave begins, in order to await those who are absent; nonetheless, the College of Cardinals is granted the faculty to move forward the start of the Conclave if it is clear that all the Cardinal electors are present; they can also defer, for serious reasons, the beginning of the election for a few days more. But when a maximum of twenty days have elapsed from the beginning of the vacancy of the See, all the Cardinal electors present are obliged to proceed to the election.”
“Since all the expected Cardinal electors are now present the College can now prepare to decide the date of the Conclave, including whether to move the date up from 15 days after the beginning of the period of the Sede Vacante,” Fr. Lombardi stated.
Fr. Lombardi stated that the cardinals commented on an online prayer initiative called “Adopt-a-Cardinal”. Currently, over 362,000 people have subscribed to pray, at random, for a cardinal.
Among the issues discussed by the General Congregation this morning were inter-religious dialogue, contemporary culture, bioethics, justice in the world, the importance of the Church in a proclaiming a positive message of love and mercy, and collegiality. Fr. Lombardi stated thus far, over 100 cardinals have intervened a more are expected to speak in the upcoming congregations this evening and tomorrow morning.
Fr. Lombardi concluded his briefing by showing journalists a video provided by the Vatican’s CTV of the Domus Santa Martha, where the cardinals will take up residence during the conclave. The cardinals’ rooms will be assigned by lot drawn during the Congregations.
“No cardinal chooses who will be his neighbour nor which room they would prefer,” Fr. Lombardi stated. The video also showed the suite where the newly elected Pontiff will stay while the papal apartments are unsealed and renovated.