Vatican City

Cardinals set for busy day of pre-conclave talks

Last cardinal elector to arrive Thursday

Cardinals set for busy day of pre-conclave talks

Vatican City, March 7 - Cardinals are set for a busy day of meetings on Thursday, when the last of the 115 cardinal electors who will take part in the conclave to elect the next pope should arrive. The cardinals will take part in two "general congregations" on Thursday, the fourth day of pre-conclave meetings, with sessions in both the morning and the afternoon. The senior clergymen opted not to hold afternoon sessions Tuesday and Wednesday, which the Vatican said showed they were determined not to rush their preparations for the conclave. A date for the start of conclave has not yet been set but this may be announced on Thursday, with an intense day of talks planned and the last cardinal elector, Jean Baptiste Pahm Minh Man of Vietnam, set to land. Vatican watchers had thought March 11 likely for the start of the conclave but that is starting looks "optimistic", some have said, given that no date was set in the first three days of meetings. The "general congregations" enable the cardinals to get to know each other better, share ideas about what characteristics the next leader of the Catholic Church should have and establish a date for the conclave to elect the successor of Benedict XVI, who stepped down last week. Over 140 cardinals are taking part in the congregations, but fewer will participate in the conclave because only those under 80 are eligible to vote. There had been speculation that the cardinals would want to move quickly in order to have a new pontiff installed before Palm Sunday, March 24, so he could preside over the Holy Week ceremonies that lead up to Easter. Benedict changed the rules for the conclave in his final days as pontiff to make it possible for it to be held before the 15-20 days after the end of the previous papacy, given that he had stepped down, not died, and there was no funeral to organise. Benedict, 85, stepped down a week ago after announcing on February 11 that he no longer had the mental and physical strength to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

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