Pre-conclave Mass hears call for church unity – but no clues on who will be pope

First vote black smoke has conclave go into a second day

For the Vatican isti , it was time to consult the tea leaves. When the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, delivered the homily at yesterday morning's Pro-Eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass in the Basilica of St Peter's, it was time to sit up and listen.

It is not only that Cardinal Sodano has always been the Holy See equivalent of a heavy dude, a man who served as Vatican "prime minister" for 15 years. It is also that this is the Mass which traditionally precedes the start of the conclave. Eight years ago, the manner in which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then dean of cardinals, handled this Mass helped persuade many of his fellow cardinals that he was the right man to succeed John Paul II.

Church's gratitude
This time, even if 85-year-old Cardinal Sodano is not

a candidate, he still merits serious attention. Significantly, he began by expressing the church’s gratitude for Benedict’s “brilliant pontificate”.


Was that just genuine gratitude, or was it an indication that perhaps the next pope should carry on where Benedict left off? In other words, do many cardinals want a pope who, to some extent, will represent continuity with the 35-year period of John Paul II/Benedict rule? And finding that successor will take at least one more day, as the black smoke belching last night from the temporary chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel suggested. No pope here, as they say elsewhere . . . at least not yet.

In his homily, Cardinal Sodano emphasised this solemn moment in church life, highlighting the role of the successor of Peter: "It is for the very unity of his mystical body that Christ then has sent His Holy Spirit and, at the same time,

Unity of the church
He has established His apostles and among them Peter who takes the lead, as the visible foundation of the unity of the church. . . Each of us is therefore called to co-operate with the successor of Peter. . . "

However, Cardinal Sodano then appeared to promote the role of the pope as “God’s politician” when saying: “In the wake of this service of love towards the church and towards all of humanity, the last popes have been builders of so many good initiatives . . . Let us pray that the future pope may continue this unceasing work on the world level. . . ”

Does this mean a majority of the cardinals now feel the next pope should be more politically attuned and active than the intellectual Benedict, who was more than willing to leave the day-to-day running of the Catholic Church to his trusted aides, such as his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone ?

Cardinal Sodano’s words are open to either interpretation. In a few days, we will have the answers.