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Posted April 10, 2005 at 2:45 p.m. CDT

Focus is on John Paul,
not succession,
during mourning period

By Stacy Meichtry
Vatican City

Before a wall-to-wall audience at St. Peter’s Basilica Sunday, pope John Paul II’s vicar to Rome celebrated the third Mass of official mourning, calling on the faithful to focus on John Paul’s legacy as the bishop of Rome rather than “uselessly” anticipate the selection of his successor.

Toward the conclusion of a homily focused on John Paul’s role as the bishop of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini turned to the subject of papal succession, noting that while Rome awaits their new bishop, “we are not uselessly and too humanly curious to know beforehand who (the successor) will be.

The mass came a day after Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, announced that cardinals had unanimously decided to avoid contact with the media and begin a period of more intense silence and prayer." 

Since their arrival in Rome, Cardinals have been under oath not to discuss the selection of the next pope or contents of their daily meetings in preparation for the conclave.

During the past week, however, several cardinals have met with the media and discussed issues facing the conclave. American Cardinals such as Edward Egan of New York have expressed a need for increased collegiality between Rome and local dioceses. African Cardinals, such as Francis Arinze of Nigeria, have told Italian media that they expect to be bypassed, because “the West is not yet ready for a black pope.”  Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, a papabile, has said that John Paul II had “a problem to have unity and diversity. ” 

Against this backdrop, Ruini on Sunday characterized John Paul as a global unifier, noting the heavy turnout at his funeral and the diversity of the crowds.

“During the funeral Mass, St. Peter’s Square managed to become an eloquent symbol of a great family of nations rather than a clash of the civilizations,” he said.

The rest of the homily was dedicated to highlighting John Paul’s efforts to immerse himself in the pastoral oversight of Rome’s 333 parishes. Referring to John Paul as the pontiff “from far away,” he recounted the “eagerness” that John Paul displayed in his visits to 301 of Rome’s parishes.

In a full-page editorial in Sunday’s Avvenire, the official paper of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops under John Paul and a prelate on many papabili lists, also reflected on his former boss’s devotion to prayer.

“What struck me the most in the long years in which I had the joy and privilege to work beside him and accompany him in his pastoral travels was the intensity of his prayer,” Re wrote, recalling the pontiff’s devotion to the Madonna.

Ruini also underlined this devotion, recalling John Paul’s hard-fought recovery from tracheotomy surgery at Gemelli Policlinic, where he allegedly penned his final written message.

“He completely devoted himself to Mary and showed the authenticity of this devotion when, awaking from anesthesia after his tracheotomy operation, he immediately wrote: ‘But I am always Totus Tuus,’” Ruini said. 

Totus Tuus is Latin for “Completely Yours.”

Ruini has a reputation for being Italy’s most powerful cardinal on the national stage. As the head of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Ruini rarely shies away from political battles. He has worked to block change of government policy towards homosexuals and funding for Catholic schools. Most recently, he called upon Italians to abstain from voting on a referendum that seeks to modify Italy’s ban on artificial insemination.

“This is the church that (John Paul) wanted and today continues to ask us to live,” he said. “A Church that doesn’t bend over backwards, that isn’t timid and doubted, a church that burns with the love of Christ, for the salvation of man.”

The homily drew strong applause from the pews, which were packed with faithful beneath St. Peter’s cavernous ceilings.

Faithful who could not attend mass inside the basilica gathered in front giant television screens in St. Peter’s Square. A colorful spectrum of umbrellas painted the cobblestones as the crowds followed the mass under a steady drizzle.

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