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Cardinals pray for generous-hearted pope

Conclave to elect Church's new leader starts Tuesday

12 March, 14:01
Cardinals pray for generous-hearted pope

(By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Vatican City, March 12 - Cardinals prayed for the next pope to be generous-hearted at Tuesday's "pro eligendo Romano Pontifice" mass at St Peter's Basilica.

The mass was the final liturgical act by the Catholic cardinals before they enter a conclave later on Tuesday to elect a new pope to succeed Benedict XVI, who abdicated due to diminishing physical and mental strength last month.

"It is a mission of charity that is proper to the Church, and in a particular way is proper to the Church of Rome, that in the beautiful expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, is the Church that 'presides in charity'," Cardinal Angelo Sodano said about the pontiff's mission in his homily at the mass.

"My brothers, let us pray that the Lord will grant us a pontiff who will embrace this noble mission with a generous heart".

Tuesday's mass was open to all of the Catholic Church's cardinals, most of whom have been in Rome for over a week for the "general congregations" to prepare for the election of Benedict XVI's successor. At around 16:30 Italian time the 115 of them who are eligible to vote, as they are under 80, will enter the Sistine chapel, which hosts Michelangelo's famous frescoed ceiling and his depiction of the Last Judgment, and the conclave will begin.

During the conclave the cardinal electors are sworn to total secrecy and they will be shut off from all contact with the outside world, spending their time between the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican's Santa Martha hotel. The cardinals are expected to hold their first vote late on Tuesday afternoon.

This is likely to be inconclusive and Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardy said the cardinals may not hold a vote at all on Tuesday. They will hold four ballots a day from Wednesday.

To be elected pope, a cardinal needs a two-thirds majority in the conclave - or 77 votes. Black smoke from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel indicates a vote has been inconclusive, while white smoke and the ringing of St. Peter's bells will announce a new pope has been elected.

At Tuesday's mass, Sodano said Catholics should pray for the next pope to continue in the footsteps of his recent predecessors by promoting international peace and justice.

"The basic attitude of every Shepherd is therefore to lay down one's life for his sheep," said Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals and the former Vatican secretary of state.

"This also applies to the successor of Peter, pastor of the universal Church. As high and universal the pastoral office, so much greater must be the charity of the shepherd...

"In the wake of this service of love toward the Church and towards all of humanity, the last popes have been builders of so many good initiatives for people and for the international community, tirelessly promoting justice and peace. "Let us pray that the future Pope may continue this unceasing work on the world level". Earlier in the service, Sodano expressed the Church's thanks to Benedict.

"We renew all our of profound gratitude to Benedict XVI," said Sodano, sparking warm and lengthy applause from the other cardinals and faithful gathered.