Cardinal Wuerl: Next pope must make faith compelling

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ROME -- Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., hasn't decided whom he will vote for in the papal election, but he has a clear vision of the kind of man the church needs.

He must exude holiness and have a gift for making the Roman Catholic faith compelling to those who have rejected what they know of it, he said Saturday.

When the new pope is introduced, Cardinal Wuerl said, "He needs to step out onto that balcony and he needs to say, 'Christ is with us. We need to listen to him. He has the answers to the questions of the human heart. He shows us a better way to live than the secular world can offer.' "

Cardinal Wuerl, 72, who was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, spoke at St. Peter in Chains, his titular church in Rome. Historically, the cardinals were the priests of Rome, so the pope assigns each of them a church here.

The minor basilica, which houses Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses, is an ancient one. A parish existed on the site near the Colosseum from the second century, and the foundations of the present building are from the fifth century.

Its greatest relic is the chains said to have bound St. Peter before his miraculous deliverance from prison in Jerusalem and before his crucifixion in Rome.

Legend says that the fifth-century Roman Empress Eudoxia received the Jerusalem chain from her mother, a Byzantine empress who had received it from the patriarch of Jerusalem. The Roman chain had always been in the keeping of the popes, and when Eudoxia presented the Jerusalem chain to Pope Leo the Great, the two chains miraculously fused together.

Cardinal Wuerl, who had known and worked with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger long before he became Pope Benedict XVI, was thrilled and profoundly moved when Pope Benedict assigned him to St. Peter in Chains.

Later, Cardinal Wuerl said, "He reminded me that he had given me this church. He smiled and said, 'And I have the other one,' meaning the other one dedicated to St. Peter."

Both basilicas are a reminder "that Peter is the rock on which Christ founded his church," Cardinal Wuerl said. It is also a reminder, he said, that faithful ministry often entails suffering.

On Saturday, he held a private Mass for his seminarians in the apse of the basilica. In place of the usual prayer for the pope was a prayer for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on the cardinals who will elect the next one.

After the Mass, he spoke briefly to the seminarians about the "very, very unique moment" they were in of a sede vacante -- vacant papal throne -- following the first abdication in six centuries. It's a reminder, he said, that the papacy isn't a person but an office that survives and unifies the church no matter the strengths or frailties of the men elected to it. Each of them carries on the ministry of Peter.

"Peter has the responsibility of sustaining all of us in the continuity of the church," he said. "We pray that soon, by God's grace, the electors will choose the next person to carry on that ministry. ... Pray that those who have the responsibility for this ... will choose well and wisely."

This is the first time that Cardinal Wuerl will vote in a papal election, but not his first conclave. In 1978, as an aide to the ailing Cardinal John Wright, he attended the conclave that elected Pope John Paul II. Since then, he has shown such skill in governing the church -- he mandated zero tolerance on sex abuse of minors 14 years before it became national policy -- that those who dream of an American pope sometimes invoke his name.

Just last year, Pope Benedict chose him to be the "relator" -- organizer -- of October's global Synod of Bishops on the pope's signature project, evangelization of secularized people. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla and, to a lesser extent, Cardinal Ratzinger first garnered the respect of other cardinals worldwide as relators of important synods, and were later elected Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, respectively.

Cardinal Wuerl emphatically dismissed such speculation, but his primary concern is to elect a pope who will embody and implement the new evangelization that Pope Benedict called for.

"The first and driving issue" for the conclave, he said, "is the ability of the church to bring the gospel once again to those who think they know what the gospel says and for whom they believe it has no meaning."

That will involve multiple layers of outreach and ministry, and the ability to communicate it in all the new media and networks in which people today exchange ideas, he said.

On the intellectual level, he said, the church must "maintain the conversation about the compatibility and complementarity of faith and reason." On a pastoral level, the church must keep a laser focus on "the re-proclamation of the essence of our faith, that God is with us, that Jesus has risen."

On what he called the operational side, he said, it must maintain all the ministries of teaching and social service "that manifest the love of God."

Those, he said, must form the agenda for the new pope.

As the cardinals prepare to begin formal pre-conclave discussions Monday, there has been much talk of the need for a pope who will clean up a Vatican administration plagued by incompetence, scandal and abuse of power.

Problems began under Pope John Paul II, and many had expected major overhaul from Pope Benedict, who as a cardinal reportedly did battle with some of the more egregious offenders. But he was elected at age 78 after attempting at least twice to retire, and administrative problems escalated during his tenure.

While those concerns are important, they shouldn't be the direct responsibility of the pope, said Cardinal Wuerl, who worked in the curia -- Vatican administration -- for a decade in the 1970s.

"There will always be the work of administration, and many people are saying it's time for a strong administrator. I don't think I would necessarily put that as my first reason for choosing someone," he said. "A good, evangelizing pope can always pick someone to oversee the curia. He can pick someone with administrative skills."

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Ann Rodgers: First Published March 3, 2013 5:00 AM


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