Vatican City

Pre-conclave 'congregations' wind up first day

'Positive day', says archbishop of Vienna

Pre-conclave 'congregations' wind up first day

(By Paul Virgo) Vatican City, March 4 - Catholic cardinals on Monday finished their first day of pre-conclave meetings. The meetings, called "general congregations", are useful to enable the clergymen to share ideas about what characteristics the next leader of the Catholic Church should have and establish a date for the conclave to elect Benedict XVI's successor. Over 140 cardinals are taking part on the congregations, two of which were held on Monday, but only those under 80 will take part in the conclave. Benedict, 85, stepped down as pontiff last week saying he did not have the mental and physical strength to continue in a position that is usually for life. Many of the cardinals left the Vatican's Paul VI hall after the second of Monday's congregations, nodding to each other and several said: "prayer is necessary, let's pray". "It was a positive day, there's a wonderful atmosphere," said Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna. Only one congregation session will take place on Tuesday, in the morning, the Vatican said. Almost all of the elector cardinals have arrived in Rome. Four came on Monday, meaning that only eight are yet to land. All of the electoral cardinals must be present for the date of the conclave to be set. About 115 cardinals are expected to take part in the balloting when the conclave formally begins, likely next week. Two eligible cardinals have given notice they will not attend - one for reasons of ill health, and the other, British Cardinal Keith O'Brien, because he is being investigated for allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with priests. Cardinals began discussions in an atmosphere "of serenity, it was very constructive", Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Monday. There was still time during the discussions for a coffee break for the cardinals, who also enjoyed the warm spring-like air of Rome. New York Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan said that the conclave to elect a new pope will be brief. Dolan, who is considered a possible candidate to be the next leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that "we will move quickly". "Our work this week will be very important," he added, referring to the pre-conclave congregations. "I want to speak with all of my fellow cardinals. I want to meet all of them, I want to understand them better. Many of them I only know from the books they've written". However, German Cardinal Walter Kasper said he was opposed to rushing the conclave . "We need time to get to know one another," Kasper told German daily Stuttgarter Zeitung. "A papal election is not something you should rush"

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