Vatican City, 4 March 2013 (VIS) – Early this afternoon Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, informed reporters on the proceedings of the first of the General Congregations of the College of Cardinals. The cardinals' meeting took place this morning at 9:30am in the Synod Hall, which is located above the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican building created by the Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi.
The Congregation was headed by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College, accompanied by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., camerlengo of the Apostolic Camera, and Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary of the Congregation for Bishops. The members of the College took their places following the hierarchical order of precedence: first those belonging to the order of Cardinal-bishops, then the Cardinal-priests, and finally the Cardinal-deacons. Each cardinal has an assigned seat to facilitate the process of voting.
After the opening prayer, “Veni Sancte Spiritus”, followed by the “Adsumus” prayer, Cardinal Sodano greeted those present in Italian, informing them of the procedures related to the Sede Vacante and how the Congregations, regulated by the Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis”, will operate. Following that, technical guidance on the use of microphones and the voting apparatuses was given. The proceedings are being simultaneously translated in five languages: Italian, French, German, Spanish, and English.
There were 142 of the total 207 cardinals present this morning; 103 of those present were Cardinal electors. Expected to arrive this afternoon and tomorrow, therefore, are 63 others including the remaining 12 Cardinal electors. This number—115 Cardinal electors—takes into account the two cardinals who have already indicated that they will not be attending: the archbishop emeritus of Jakarta, Indonesia and the archbishop emeritus of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland.
The gathered cardinals swore to keep secret the deliberations for the election of the future Pope, after which the Cardinal dean, Angleo Sodano, read the oath in Latin, everyone present reciting along with him. After that, each cardinal, according to their order of precedence came forward and took the oath before a Crucifix and with their hand on the Gospels. This process occupied a good portion of the meeting's time.
Three assistants to the camerlengo were also drawn by lot from the Cardinal electors of each of the orders. As established in No. 7 of “Universi Dominici Gregis”, these three will assist the Cardinal camerlengo for the first three days of the Congregations. Chosen were Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re from the order of bishops, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe from the order of priests, and Cardinal Franc Rode from the order of deacons. After being chosen these three also took their places next to the Camerlengo at the head table.
According to tradition, it is expected that the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Fr. Raniero Catalamessa, O.F.M. Cap, will give the first meditation to the College of Cardinals early this afternoon.
“During the course of the meeting,” Fr. Lombardi added, “Dean Sodano proposed to the cardinals that, if they sent a message to the Pope emeritus, he would give a written response for one of the following meetings.” The Holy See Press Office Director also commented that the atmosphere was very friendly and that the cardinals took a 45-minute break for coffee and to exchange thoughts.
From 11:45am until 12:30pm, 13 cardinals took the floor to address issues mainly related to the process of the proceedings and the questions to be faced, also bearing in mind the results of the latest Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.
“You could define this initial encounter,” Fr. Lombardi concluded, “as serene, constructive, and positive.”