By JOHN THAVIS, CNS | Published April 7, 2005
As a record number of mourners continued to file past Pope John Paul II’s body, the world’s cardinals set April 18 for the start of the election of his successor.
The cardinals, in their third day of meetings, also read Pope John Paul’s last will and testament. The document, about 15 pages long, will be published April 7, the Vatican said.
There are 117 cardinals under age 80 and therefore eligible to vote in the conclave, which will begin during the afternoon of April 18 after a morning Mass. It was not known if all the voting-age cardinals would be able to make the trip to Rome.
The cardinals may vote during their first afternoon session or may begin voting the next morning. After that, balloting is done twice each morning and twice each afternoon until a pope is elected, with occasional pauses for reflection.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that in his written spiritual testament the pope had not revealed the name of a cardinal he secretly appointed in 2003. That means the cardinal’s identity will never be known, and he will not be able to vote in the conclave.
The Vatican spokesman said the testament was not something written on the pope’s deathbed, but had been prepared in different entries that began in 1979, the second year of Pope John Paul’s pontificate.
As of April 6, 122 of the 183 cardinals had arrived in Rome. All the cardinals, even those over age 80, can participate in the daily meetings that lead up to the conclave. When they arrive, each cardinal takes an oath to maintain secrecy about any matter relating to the election of the next pope.
The cardinals spent most of their meeting taking care of practical business.
They reviewed the list of foreign dignitaries and spiritual leaders who would be attending the pope’s funeral April 8. They also considered requests by some of the dignitaries to kneel and pray before the pope’s body in St. Peter’s Basilica, but held off a decision while security issues were being studied.
The cardinals denied a request from Rome Catholics to move the pope’s body to the Basilica of St. John Lateran for viewing after the funeral Mass and before burial. They cited technical and logistical reasons for denying the request that he be taken to St. John’s, his diocesan cathedral.
The viewing in St. Peter’s Square continued for a third day, with huge lines gradually filling up the neighborhood streets surrounding Vatican City. The crowds jammed traffic throughout large parts of the city, and some people waited at least nine hours before entering the basilica and briefly passing by the dead pope.
Rome authorities, alarmed at the size of the crowds that have come to the Vatican since the pope died April 2, asked people in other parts of Italy to stay home that day. They also planned to set up giant TV screens in several Rome squares so people unable to get near the Vatican could follow the funeral and burial.