Thursday, March 23, 2006

THE CONSISTORY: Into the "Cenacle"

The College of Cardinals -- including the 15 designates to be elevated tomorrow -- has entered into its "day of reflection and prayer" with Benedict XVI.

The meeting, which began at 9am and is slated to stretch into the night, is taking place in the New Synod Hall, which stretches above the atrio of the Nervi, the Paul VI audience hall. It's the customary gathering place for the Synod of Bishops and, once enough of the porporati showed up last April, hosted the larger sessions of the General Congregations in advance of the conclave.

In his greeting to the Pope on behalf of the Cardinals, the dean of the College, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, compared the feeling in the room to that of the "spiritual climate which reigned in the Cenacle at Pentecost, when the Apostles were joined with Peter and Mary in expectation of the Holy Spirit."

Following Sodano's address, the Pope offered his own reflections to the gathering, which is expected to touch primarily on the exigencies of the church's interaction with the world, relations with Islam and the Orthodox, and the impending reform of the Roman Curia. However, no topic is off-limits as the cardinals have been encouraged to bring their own questions and concerns before the gathering.

Notably absent for reasons of health is the College's retired dean, Bernardin Gantin, whose resignation from the top post cleared the way for Joseph Ratzinger's election to the position which enabled him to preside over last year's interregnum. At his 80th birthday in 2002, Gantin -- a Curial veteran who had served as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops -- requested John Paul's permission to return to his home country of Benin. He's the only cardinal-bishop permitted residence outside the city of Rome.

AP/Pier Paolo Cito