(Vatican Radio) The general congregations are an essential part of preparing to elect
a Pope, particularly for Cardinals from local Churches, but what’s equally important
for the men called to vote in Conclave is prayer and the spiritual support of the
Universal Church and this, according to Cardinal Thomas Christopher Collins, Archbishop
of Toronto, Canada, is a point often lost on secular media in the race - “understandable”
as it is - to single out ‘contenders’.
Last week, ahead of his first experience in a Conclave, Cardinal Collins dropped by Vatican Radio to speak to Emer McCarthy about what he sees as the dual dimension of the papal transition: the human dimension and the Divine dimension. Listen:
“ I have had constant contact from people who are saying ‘we are praying for you and the other cardinals’. This is a great consolation and I think it’s something people don’t realize. In the whole process there is a great deal that is very human. Discussion, in fact, is required. It’s part of the rule of the Conclave you must have time to discuss things, think things through. But at the same time its Divine. There is the praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we make this choice. There are these two dimensions which go together, like faith and reason, that’s the way God made us, grace builds on nature. So we need to be attentive to both dimensions. It is something that people sometimes when they are thinking of this in terms of who are the contenders, there is a whole political paradigm, it’s all understandable but it misses the point”.
Another point that has many confused are the purpose of the general congregations. These are the meetings of the entire College of Cardinals, electors (under 80 ) and non-electors, that precede the Conclave. There is no fixed number and, once they have all gathered together, the cardinals decide how long they will last and when to begin the Conclave. For Cardinal Collins these pre-Conclave ‘summits’ are essential, especially for the vast majority of voting Cardinals who are not members of the Roman Curia (over 70):
“The Cardinals who are working together with the Holy Father in Rome, they meet one another all the time and so are very familiar with the different issues they are dealing with. The Cardinals who, like myself, are responsible for dioceses around the world, which is the majority of the voting cardinals, we are not in Rome that often – we do have to go to various meetings – but most of our responsibilities is to care for the people entrusted to our care in our own dioceses. So although we are always very conscious as cardinals, I think one of our chief responsibilities is to be very conscious of the needs of the Universal Church and also to get to know the other cardinals, we don’t always have an opportunity to do that and so these days before the Conclave but after the See is vacant is a tremendous opportunity for all the cardinals to discuss the issues with one another, to get to know one another better and therefore to be better prepared for the moment when those who are cardinal electors enter into the Conclave”
Once the General Congregations have begun, the Cardinals are sworn to secrecy and cannot reveal the content of discussions. So Emer McCarthy asked Cardinal Collins ahead of the first meeting Monday morning what concerns he would raise with his fellow cardinals.
“I think that my concern will be to listen to the cardinals from around the world. I will also probably express my own sense of some of the issues . I think that in the Western part of the world, North America and Europe and so on, the issue of secularism is very important, of individualism. But in other parts of the world they are not so important, there are other issues, persecution, social justice issues, many others…so I think as each cardinal speaks from his own perspective all of us will begin to get a broader picture of the whole concern that people have. Because the Holy Father has to be responsible for the whole world, and therefore sometimes, each cardinal coming from his own perspective will think certain things are very important others not so much, whereas it’s the reverse with other cardinals, so it’s important to get the whole picture and I think that’s what we’ll do. I think one of the great consolations that we all have is that during the period after the See is vacant and especially during the Conclave is to know how many people will be praying for us”.