VATICAN CITY (CNS): The world’s cardinals began meetings at the Vatican on Monday, March 4, and while onlookers are focused on who may be the next pope, the cardinals have business to deal with.
Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa said the general congregations began with the actual business of running the Church during the extraordinary period when there was no pope.
While the cardinals do not have to plan and set a budget for a funeral and burial – which past general congregations have had to do after the death of a pope – there still was a “sede vacante” budget to approve and the formal authorising of sede vacante stamps and coins.
In the general congregation, the cardinals set the date for the beginning of the conclave, but the Vatican spokesman said that was unlikely to happen on the first day.
The cardinals also began examining together and in depth the rules for the conclave and for electing a new pope, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga told Catholic News Service on March 1.
They invited experts in canon law to join them and give advice if some points were unclear or in dispute.
Only after they dealt with practical business, he said, would they begin discussing the main challenges facing the Church.
In 2005, he said, they had broad discussions, then broke up into small groups, according to continent, “so we could define better the challenges” particular to their region.
“I believe we will do the same” this time, the cardinal said.
Asked if there also were secret meetings in backrooms and restaurants before the conclave, he said: “These are stories.”
“I never had those kinds of meetings during the last conclave. It’s a different thing trying to elect a pope than vote for a candidate of a (political) party,” he said.
“We, instead of thinking of candidates, we think of the main challenges, the main problems, and then try to think, in prayer, who can be the best-suited person for facing those challenges and trying to help the Church.”
Once inside the conclave, he said, “there will be many names” that come out on the first ballot.
“But then time goes by. We try to focus, especially, on the main challenges of the Church and who can be the person to answer those challenges,” he said.
Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, 70, said it was necessary for the cardinals to consider the age of the candidates, but that did not mean it would be the determining factor “because knowing now there is a precedence of resignation means the next pope will not be tied to going until death; it is possible to serve for a certain number of years and then retire. Why not?”
The cardinal said it was possible his brother electors would decide to look outside Europe for the next pope, “but it’s not a matter of nationality or where you were born”.
“It’s a matter of the main problems of the Church and the person who could answer, no matter where he was born,” he said.
Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said that, from personal experience and his expertise in human psychology, he knew that attempts to use the political labels “liberal” and “conservative” to define and divide the cardinals were inaccurate and said more about the person doing the labelling than about the cardinals themselves.
The cardinal said he had been accused by some people of being a liberation theologian, while others said he was too conservative.
“The most important thing is how is the faith” of the cardinal.
“Faith is the most important” factor in the life of a cardinal and, of course, of a potential pope, he said.
In electing a new pope, the Honduran cardinal said he would look for “a person of faith, a person of love with a big heart to understand, especially, the human sufferings of today and to understand we are only servants, not kings”.