In the course of the daily press briefing held by the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr Federico Lombardi, SJ, the news reported by a press agency that some of the Masters of Ceremony had reserved St Peter's Basilica this coming Monday to celebrate a 'pro eligendo Summo Pontefice' Mass, thus giving an indication that the Conclave date had been set, was dismissed.
“I spoke with the Master of Ceremonies Marini [Msgr Guido Marini, master of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff] personally,” Fr Lombardi said, “and that is definitely not the case. Moreover, reserving St Peter's Basilica is not the task of the Master of Ceremonies but of the College of Cardinals. That news, therefore, is completely false. Also, all priests can celebrate a 'pro eligendo Summo Pontefice' Mass asking God to enlighten the pontifical College in these days so such a Mass would not indicate the beginning of the Conclave.”
There were 152 cardinals present at this morning's fifth General Congregation. This includes two newly arrived cardinals who took the oath of secrecy: Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, archbishop of Warsaw, Poland, who is a Cardinal elector and Cardinal Giovanni Coppa, apostolic nuncio emeritus to Czech Republic. The final Cardinal elector expected, Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Thanh-Pho Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, is in the process of arriving.
Three new Cardinal assistants were chosen by lot to serve on the Particular Congregation, the three-day term of the first Cardinal assistants having expired. The Cardinal assistants chosen were: from the Order of Bishops, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, OMM, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Lebanon; from the Order of Priests, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; and from the Order of Deacons, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, CS, president emeritus of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.
During the Congregation, Cardinal Dean Angelo Sodano read the draft of a telegram of condolence to be sent for the death of Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, on behalf of the College of Cardinals, which was approved by all. “When a head of state dies,” Fr Lombardi explained, “the Pope always sends a telegram of condolence. In this case, during the Sede Vacante, that task falls to the College of Cardinals.”
Over the course of the morning, 16 cardinals addressed the gathering. The first three speeches were from those responsible for the finances and the patrimony of the Holy See: Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA); and Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State. As called for in No 171 § 2 of the Apostolic Constitution 'Pastor Bonus', during the Sede Vacante the Carmelengo has to provide the College of Cardinals with this information regarding the Holy See's patrimonial and economic status. “They were brief but clear reports of each one's area of competence,” the director of the Holy See Press Office said, “bearing in mind that there is always an established date to present the previous year's balance, which is released in July. Today's was a quick way of giving information in broad outlines.”
The other 13 addresses touched upon a variety of topics, always following the order of request and without any specific order of theme. To the topics that have become common in these days—that is, evangelism, the Holy See and its Dicasteries, and the profile of expectations and hopes for the new Pope—were added issues including ecumenism, relations with other Christian churches, and the Church's charitable efforts. It has to be kept in mind that the Congregation is not simply composed of these speeches. There is also a break of a half hour or more when the Cardinal fathers can meet with one another and exchange opinions among themselves.”
Fr Lombardi also addressed the question of confidentiality and secrecy regarding the Conclave and the General Congregations in light of some news that has been published in these days. “Article 12 of the Apostolic Constitution 'Universi Dominici Gregis'”, he clarified, “states that the cardinals must take an oath to observe the provisions made within and to maintain secrecy. Obviously, it is different form the oath made at the Conclave. However, the common denominator is maintaining the reserve and privacy of the institutional atmosphere as a College, not just as private individuals. For example, during the Sede Vacante of 2005, the cardinals decided and voted not to give interviews after the first Congregations.”
Finally, referring to the outfitting of the Sistine Chapel for the Conclave, Fr Lombardi indicated that preparations for the elevation of the pavement are continuing, the windows have been blacked-out, and the two stoves for producing the 'fumata' (smoke signalling the election or non-election of a Pope after each vote) have been installed. Also, the Pope emeritus' coat of arms, which is created with flowers in the Vatican Gardens and visible from the cupola of St Peter's Basilica, was removed to prepare the flower bed for the new Pope's insignia.
The sixth General Congregation will be held this evening from 5-7pm.