Roman Journal: Locked in
Our Sunday Visitor Publisher Greg Erlandson traveled to Rome to cover the Papal Conclave. He filed reports as the week progressed with his observations and commentary.
April 15, 2005
As 115 cardinals prepared to be “locked in” to the conclave (conclave means "with key") Sunday afternoon, they had one more assignment to complete: The cardinal Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, asked all the cardinals to go to their titular churches and celebrate Mass, praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This was an optimum time for journalists to hear the cardinals preach publicly before they cloistered themselves within the Vatican.
As it happened, I was already committed to attending Mass at the Santa Susanna Church in Rome. Santa Susanna is on the site of an ancient Christian sanctuary. Its interior was restored a number of times, most recently in the 16th century, and its walls are covered top to bottom in frescoes, paintings and statuary portraying various martyrdoms. Santa Susanna is the church for the American community in Rome, with about 200 families as members, but also serving many visitors, on whom it depends for funds.
It is also the titular church of Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston.
Indeed, Cardinal Law was a great benefactor of this church, which had fallen into a state of severe disrepair. For several years, in fact, the American community met at a different church a few miles away while it was being restored.
Cardinal Law generated some controversy in the United States and among U.S. journalists earlier in the week when he celebrated one of the Novendiali Masses for the soul of John Paul II on (Tuesday?). A few critics of his record in Boston concerning the sexual abuse scandals demonstrated outside of the Basilica. Since coming to Rome, he was given the largely ceremonial post of arch-priest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, one of the major basilicas, and it was in that capacity that he was invited to be the primary celebrant of the Novendiali Mass.
He did not appear at his titular church on Sunday, however, because of a conflict with a Mass he was to celebrate at his basilica. Instead, Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and an American from Philadelphia who has served in the Vatican for more than 20 years, was a logical, last minute replacement.
As requested by Cardinal Ruini, Archbishop Foley used the occasion to ask for prayers “that the cardinals may be led by the Holy Spirit to choose the person best equipped to lead Christ’s Church in this very difficult moment.”
Archbishop Foley listed three primary difficulties for the next pope, the first being the fact that he “will have to follow one of the most impressive and popular Popes in the 2,000-year history of the Church.” Indeed, while many people have said that the new pope must be his own man, it is clear, in the words of Archbishop Foley, that “Pope John Paul II will be a hard act to follow.”
Second, the archbishop listed the problems of the church: falling vocations, the decline in Mass attendance in the developed world, growing materialism, sexual permissiveness and other blights. He particularly mentioned “religious fundamentalism and the continuing splintering of Christianity as new denominations spring up to tempt people away from the one sheepfold desired by Christ.”
Finally, Archbishop Foley listed problems in the larger world: terrorism, tribal conflicts and religious fanaticism, a reference no doubt in part aimed at Islamic extremism, a concern also of many cardinals.
The archbishop urged personal prayer, study of the faith and reform of our own lives as part of the answer, underscoring an important point: Even a pope as great as John Paul II grappled with these same issues, and without necessarily making significant headway.
We are more than a church of one man, even a man as able as he. Perhaps the task of the new pope will not be to solve, but to mobilize. For unless and until Catholics embrace these challenges as their own, it is likely that the next conclave will be discussing the very same issues.
The archbishop ended with a note about the lonely challenges of being Pope. An African archbishop, he recounted, was having a difficult time, telling John Paul II over lunch, “It is very difficult to be a bishop!”
“The Holy Father, still staring at his soup bowl said, ‘It’s even more difficult to be Pope.’”
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