The first conclave of the third millennium

Wlodzimierz Redzioch

The cardinals who arrived in the Vatican City in order to elect a successor of John Paul II to the Petrine See decided to begin the conclave on Monday, 18 April. In the apostolic constitution Universi Dominici gregis, 1996, the Holy Father defined that conclave is to begin between the 15th and 20th day after the pope's death. Therefore, we see that cardinals decided to begin it on the first possible day after the nine Masses for the late pope, the so-called novendiali.

Someone called the present conclave 'the conclave of John Paul II's cardinals'. No wonder, all electors except three: Joseph Ratzinger, William Baum and Jaime L. Sin, were created cardinals by John Paul II. Today the College of Cardinals, consisting mostly of archbishops of local churches, reflects a great 'geographical' diversity of the Catholic Church. Europe is still represented by a majority of cardinals, their number being 58, but they are not an absolute majority. The second group of cardinals with the right to vote comes from Latin America - 21 cardinals (there will be only 20 cardinals in the conclave since Cardinal Adolfo Antonio Suarez Rivera is ill and has not arrived in Rome). There are 14 electors from the United States and Canada (North America). Africa and Asia have 11 cardinals each (unfortunately Cardinal Jaime L. Sin, archbishop of Manila, will not participate in the conclave because he is ill and must have dialysis every day, which means there will be 11 Asians), and Australia and Oceania have 2 electors.
Italian commentators also pay attention to another fact, that this conclave has had the smallest number of Italians for several ages. There are 'only' 20 in 115 electors, which is 17 %. Before the war, Italian cardinals constituted over half of the College of Cardinals. Pius XII nominated many foreign cardinals and after his death there were 17 Italians among 51 electors in the conclave, which was one third. In 1963, one year after the death of John XXIII, the number of cardinals increased to 80, but the number of Italian electors also increased considerably (29 electors, which was 35 % of all cardinals). In the two conclaves held in 1978 there were 29 and 28 Italians respectively, so in the second conclave they constituted 25 % of 111 electors. The decrease of Italian cardinals as candidates for the Petrine ministry and the first pontificate of non-Italian after 455 years caused many people to ask the question whether the tradition of the last centuries, i.e. an Italian citizen was elected pope, has ended. The Pope, successor of St Peter, is the bishop of Rome and exercises the ministry of the highest Shepherd of the universal Church. But John Paul II, who undertook 104 trips abroad and visited 129 counties (he spent 543 days travelling all over the world), was above all seen as Pastor of the whole Church, who held the title of the Bishop of Rome. We do not know how this will influence the decision of the electors choosing the successor of John Paul II, but it is worth mentioning that the election of Cardinal Wojtyla, i.e. non-Italian pope, was the result of a compromise. Many Vaticanists managed to reconstruct the course of the previous conclave thanks to interviews with cardinals. It turned out that after the unexpected death of John Paul I the cardinals wanted to elect another Italian. In the first ballots, which began on 14 October 1978, the biggest number of votes was given to two Italians: Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, archbishop of Genoa, and Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, archbishop of Florence. When it occurred that they got the same amount of votes in the next rounds of balloting and none reached absolute majority, the situation was a stalemate. At first, they looked for another Italian candidate and later a group of cardinals headed by Cardinal Franz Koenig, archbishop of Vienna, proposed a Polish candidate. On 16 October, on the third day of the conclave, Cardinal Wojtyla received a considerable number of ballots in the morning vote. And in the afternoon, in the eighth ballot, his name appeared on over 100 ballots, which was over 90% of votes.
At present we have 183 cardinals, including 117 eligible members, i.e. cardinals less than 80 years of age. The cardinals come from 66 countries and the cardinals-electors represent 52 countries.

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