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What Are Some Cardinals Thinking About?
VATICAN CITY, April 5, 2005
Never has Rome been so filled with words,
and yet so silent. Never have so many major world news organizations
devoted so much time and energy to chronicling, minute by
minute, the events surrounding the death and funeral of a
And never have such crowds of people waited in a line on
the via della Conciliazione to enter St. Peter's Basilica.
And yet, the predominant quality of the evening was silence.
Despite occasional prayers and hymns played over loudspeakers,
and sung by groups in the long line, the essential impression
I had was of silence. People were waiting for three hours,
four hours, five hours, to walk into St. Peter's Basilica
and glimpse the corpse of Pope John Paul II for just a few
The cardinals who have already arrived in Rome met this morning
and clarified two puzzles: Pope John Paul's funeral will be
Friday morning, April 8, at 10 am in St. Peter's Square; and
his body will be buried in the crypt beneath the main altar
of the basilica, not in Poland.
During the evening, by chance, I met Cardinal Ignace Moussa
Daoud walking on via della Conciliazione with two of his assistants.
I asked him a question which the BBC had asked me earlier
in the day, and I had been unable to answer: "What other
decisions did the cardinals make today?"
"To speak with one voice," he said. "That
is, to refer all questions to Monsignor Marini (the Master
of Papal Ceremonies under John Paul II)."
I persisted for a moment, "But are there particular
issues you still must resolve?"
"Many," he replied. And then he told me that he
could not discuss further the work of the cardinals.
Earlier in the day, I had been received by Cardinal Joachim
Meisner of Cologne, Germany. Meisner had not attended the
morning meeting of the cardinals. We met at 4 p.m. in the
very simple pension where he is staying, just near the offices
of Inside the Vatican magazine.
Meisner agreed to speak about the general principles which
are guiding his thinking and reflection as he prepares to
enter the papal conclave which will come a few days after
John Paul's funeral.
We began by speaking about the centrality of the message
of Fatima for John Paul II. Meisner has himself been to Fatima
five times in the past 15 years. The first time was just after
the fall of communism. Mesiner had experienced communism as
the bishop of Berlin, in communist East Germany, before he
became bishop of Cologne. It was Pope John Paul who ordered
him to visit Fatima, saying "You are from a communist
country yourself, go to Fatima. Before the light of the faith
was extinguished in Eastern Europe, the light of faith was
lit in Portugal just half a year before. Blessed be Portugal!"
Meisner attributed the fall of communism to Pope John Paul.
"The Pope pulled the carpet out from under the feet of
communism," he said. "Only the one who knows God,
But the Pope also became very critical of Western societies,
"I made two great intellectual errors in my life,"
he said. "The first was thinking that communism would
end only after 100 years; the second was thinking that when
communism fell, all our problems would be solved. That has
He said, "Western hedonism, as communism, will also
someday collapse, and perhaps even quite soon, in four weeks."
Regarding the question of collegiality: "Cardinals from
the East agree on the fact that collegiality under John Paul
II was great," he said. "There is a danger of relativizing
the See of Peter. This would go down the wrong path. It is
naive to think that this would work. During my 10 years in
Berlin, living in the East and the West at once, the communists
once told me: 'If we don't learn from the Catholic Church
-- the tight leadership under the See of Peter -- we will
fail. We can deal with the Protestants as a national religion.
But the Catholics are under the leadership of this tiny man
in Rome who dresses in white, a Church of a billion and more....'
This means: Rome saved us!"
Regarding relations with the Orthodox: "The Orthodox
see no difference between the year 1054 and 2004. For them
the events of 1,000 years ago are as recent as yesterday.
From a human perspective, it may take a very long time to
heal this schism. But, as it says in the Psalms, God can jump
Then he spoke about the task he now faces, of entering a
Conclave and choosing a successor to Pope John Paul. "Until
the death of the Pope, I refused to speculate about a possible
successor, out of respect for the Holy Father. Yesterday,
I began to think. There are two things I know for certain:
that it won't be me, and that it will be someone else. The
one I have in mind is as intelligent as a dozen professors
and as devout as a child receiving its first communion."
Meisner said the quality that marked the man he was thinking
about was "joyfulness" in his faith. He said the
college of cardinals is not a homogenous body, and that he
hopes and trusts that the Holy Spirit will be among them and
guide them. He said he hopes that the cardinals will clearly
express their views, but also that they will be flexible.
When I asked whether the next Pope will necessarily be one
of the present College of Cardinals, he said, "No, not
necessarily." "Then it might be a man who is only
a bishop?" I asked. "Why not?" he said. "It
is permitted. There is nothing in canon law against it."
Inside The Vatican (ISSN 1068-8579) is a Catholic news magazine, published monthly except July
and September, with occasional special supplements.