Cardinal-electors to stay in modern Vatican residence
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When they are not gathered to vote in the Sistine Chapel, cardinals attending the coming conclave will stay in a modern Vatican City residencefar more comfortable quarters than the makeshift rooms of past papal elections.
The Domus Sanctae Marthae, a hospitality residence named after St. Martha, lies on the edge of Vatican City, and the cardinals will take short bus rides to the Sistine Chapel for their twice-daily voting sessions.
The five-story "Domus," as it is commonly called in the Vatican, was built in 1996 and typically houses clerical and lay guests who come to participate in Vatican conferences and events. But for the conclave its 131 rooms will be cleared out, and the cardinals will move in.
Because the Domus lies just inside the Vatican walls, in partial view of downtown Rome apartment buildings, some fear the "closed-door" nature of the conclave could be compromised.
But Vatican officials said measures would be taken to ensure that the cardinals do not communicate with the outside world and vice versa. For example, some cardinals on the higher floors may be forced to keep their window shutters closed for the duration of the election.
The Domus will be off-limits to "unauthorized persons" during the conclave, but staff will be needed to take care of the residence's normal operations. The Domus is directed by an Italian priest and staffed by five nuns and 28 lay people.
When they come in and out of the residence, the cardinals will pass a bronze bust of Pope John Paul II, who decided in 1996 that the conclave cardinals should stay in roomier quarters. Previously, the cardinals slept on cots in small, stuffy rooms next door to the Sistine Chapel.
While the Domus offers relative comfort, it is not a luxury hotel. There's international cable TV, but the system will be disconnected for the conclave period. There are no recreational facilities, no bar and only one small coffee vending machine for the entire building.
The rooms of the Domus are simply furnished. There are 105 two-room suites and 26 singles, so late-arriving cardinals may be more cramped. Each suite has a sitting room with a desk, three chairs, a wall cabinet and large closet; a bedroom with dresser, night table and clothes stand; and a private bathroom with a shower.
The rooms all have telephones, but the cardinals are prohibited from using them to phone anyone outside the conclave. Cell phone reception inside the building is spotty.
The most convivial place in the residence is the dining room, where the cardinals will take their meals. The building's main chapel, with its ultramodern decorations, will be crowded if all 117 voting cardinals try to squeeze in at the same time.
The Domus has four other tiny chapels located at the end of hallways on the third and fifth floors of each of the building's two wings. Each contains an altar and four kneelers.
Overall, the residence's atmosphere is rather austere. The marble floors are polished to mirrorlike brightness. The hallways are dimly lit; fire extinguishers stand at the far ends of each corridor.
Each floor of the Domus has an open area with five or six chairs. In addition, on the ground-floor level is a modern conference room, a few smaller rooms for discussions and a large open area with tables, easy chairs and bookshelves offering an eclectic assortment of reading material.