Who is worthy? Cardinals look for pope who will ‘be himself’

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the world's cardinals turned their attention to electing a new pope, they could be forgiven if they felt a little intimidated.

They had just finished burying a pope who was lauded by world leaders as an unequaled peacemaker, who was admired by non-Catholics and non-Christians like no previous pontiff, and who was mourned by millions of faithful around the world, many of whom wanted him declared a saint immediately.

As they assembled in Rome, the question the cardinals were asked most often was: Who is worthy to walk in Pope John Paul II's footsteps?

Their answers were sometimes surprising. While praising the late pope to the heavens, the cardinals made it clear they were not looking for a clone of Pope John Paul in their search for a successor.

That is very much in keeping with the tradition of the church, where papal elections have frequently brought dramatic changes in pastoral style and emphasis.

Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium, summed up the mixed emotions felt by the cardinal-electors. He said that to sketch out a profile of the next pope, one must look at Pope John Paul, a "giant" in church history.

But he added that whoever the next pope is, he must "be himself" and not try to imitate the late pontiff.

That thought was echoed by several cardinals, who were participating in daily discussions called "general congregations" before beginning the conclave April 18.

"I don't think we have to have a copy of John Paul II to build on his work. He was unique," said Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec.

Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York said that "whoever is chosen ... he would be very, very poorly advised to try to be Pope John Paul II, Paul VI or Pius XII."

He added that the essential trait needed in the next pope is that he be "a man of holiness; everything else is important, but that is crucial."

The cardinals' remarks to reporters in the days following the pope's death were quite general. They offered no names and reacted blandly to names thrown out by journalists. Many cited the Holy Spirit as the key figure in the conclave -- implying they had not yet decided who would get their votes.

All that helped confirm the impression that the field was wide open, but from the cardinals' comments, some preferable traits were emerging.

Like Cardinal Egan, many voters said holiness and an ability to offer clear, personal witness to the Gospel were the most important qualities to look for when picking the next pope.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago said the next pope "must be a man of deep faith, a man striving to be holy, a man faithful to Christ and his teachings, and a man who will bring them into our times."

He added that Pope John Paul was "a genius at this."

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon -- one of the few who came to Rome saying he knew who he would vote for -- told a French radio station that the conclave should select someone "who shows the light of Christ and the strength of the Gospel." What part of the world he comes from, or whether he is young or old, are secondary issues, he said.

Commenting on the challenges facing the next pope, many cardinals said revitalizing the faith of Christians was at the top of the list. They also mentioned the erosion of traditional religious values in society, the need for continued dialogue with Islam and the renewal of missionary efforts -- particularly in Asia.

Several cardinals said they would be looking for someone with pastoral experience. That did not exclude Roman Curia officials, many of whom have served as bishops, but it did reflect the fact that of the 115 cardinals expected to vote in the conclave, three-fourths of them would be coming from outside Rome.

Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Lviv said a universal problem faced by the church is the "lack of moral fiber" in the world. He said the church needs to respond not with more pronouncements but by pastoral encouragement.

"Addressing the problem of morality is not a matter of reciting rules, rules, rules, but of helping people to do God's will," he said.

Other cardinals, too, seemed to suggest that the next pope will need to take Pope John Paul's strong teachings on moral and social issues and, with pastoral creativity, bring them more deeply into people's personal lives.

The cardinals may well shy away from younger candidates, looking more favorably on candidates in their 70s.

All this would seem to favor frequently mentioned candidates like Italian Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, 71, who is seen as a sympathetic and energetic pastor in his Archdiocese of Milan. He also has some supporters in the Roman Curia, who believe that he would bring management skills to the papacy.

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Sao Paolo, 70, may be the Latin American candidate who best fits the emerging profile. A strong defender of church teaching on human life, he has been a strong voice on family, labor and social justice issues.

Perhaps because he has been so visible -- as the celebrant and homilist at Pope John Paul's funeral and as the senior cardinal in charge of preparing the general congregations before the conclave -- German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is frequently mentioned as a candidate by church sources in Rome.

Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation since 1981, would offer a clear line of continuity with Pope John Paul's papacy. Because he turns 78 this month, some say he would presumably give the church a shorter pontificate -- which may be what the cardinals are looking for.

In their comments to reporters, most cardinals discounted geography as a primary factor in choosing a pope, though it may be in the back of their minds when the voting begins. Few would underestimate the immediate media impact of a Third World pope, for example.

Those forecasting conclave results may want to heed words of caution from Italian Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, who is over 80 and too old to vote.

"I'm sure whatever predictions you journalists have collected will be swept away in one minute by the breath of the Holy Spirit," he said. He made his own prediction: that the next pope would be as big a surprise as when Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected in 1978.


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