Cardinals Begin Process of Choosing New Pope

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The Roman Catholic cardinals who will elect a new pope to succeed Benedict XVI are arriving at the Vatican and have held their first meeting since the pope officially left office on Friday.

Benedict became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign rather than die in office. One 21st Century reflection of the change is the papal Twitter page, where Benedict's picture has been deleted and his tweets moved to another area of the website.

Monday's meeting of the cardinals opened in prayer, and each cardinal took an oath of secrecy, pledging to keep quiet about matters related to the election of the next pope.

The cardinals have not yet set a date for the election because some of the 115 cardinals who will vote have not yet arrived in Rome.

Still, an international media horde is following the cardinals, giving the scene some of the trappings of a political campaign. Campaigning on the part of those considered to be front-runners is strictly forbidden, and the voting cardinals are aware of the nature of their task.

"This is a spiritual act in which we are supposed to, we are obliged to, elect the new pope," Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal from India said.

"In the church, you don't have nationalities, you don't have colors or parties," Spanish Cardinal Carlos Amigo Vallejo observed.

He added that the choice of the cardinals, "a baptized Christian, will be perfectly accepted in the church."

Eleven American cardinals make up the second largest group, after Italy, of all the nations. Most of the Americans will be casting their first papal ballot.

"I would be looking for someone who has that vision and that energy to say, 'This is what I want to do with this pontificate,'" Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki from Milwaukee suggested that the heart of the man will be important.

"Like a pastor in a parish, you know when you have somebody who basically connects with people," Listecki said.

The realities of the calendar have fueled speculation that the church's leaders may begin their conclave around March 11. That would give the cardinals time to elect a new pope by March 17, the Sunday before Palm Sunday, giving the next pontiff several days in office before leading the church through Holy Week.

Meanwhile, a tailors shop in Rome is displaying the white vestments in its store window, ready for the new pope to wear when he is chosen.

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John Waage

John Waage

CBN News Sr. Editor

John Waage has covered politics and analyzed elections for CBN News since 1980, including primaries, conventions, and general elections. 

He also analyzes the convulsive politics of the Middle East.