Mass celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica before conclave to select new pope

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VATICAN CITY -- St. Peter's Basilica was overflowing Tuesday morning with a standing-room only crowd for the Mass to pray for the election of a new pope.

Late this afternoon in Rome -- around noon in Pittsburgh -- the 115 cardinal-electors of the Catholic Church will enter the Sistine Chapel to begin the conclave that will choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who abdicated on Feb. 28. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the college of cardinals and Secretary of State under Pope John Paul II, preached the homily as the other cardinals sat in a semi-circle around the main altar.

His homily had none of the memorable lines of that of his predecessor as dean, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who the next evening was elected Pope Benedict XVI the next afternoon in 2005. Cardinal Ratzinger's reflection on a world suffering under "a dictatorship of relativism" set the stage for his pontificate's project of a "new evangelization" to reach fallen-away Catholics and secularized westerners.

Cardinal Sodano never was expected to emerge as a papal candidate. At 85, he is too old even to enter the conclave to vote. And in his role as Secretary of State, he was blamed for problems including blocking Cardinal Ratzinger's efforts to investigate and remove the papal favorite who was perhaps the church's most notorious pedophile, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado.

His homily, preached in Italian, had only one applause line, when he expressed "profound gratitude" to Pope Benedict for his "brilliant pontificate." Apart from that he covered several themes that the Vatican spokesman had said were raised in the cardinals' pre-conclave meetings. Among them was the importance of evangelization.

"There is no action more beneficial -- and therefore more charitable -- toward one's neighbor than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with him the good news of the gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God," Cardinal Sodano said.

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Ann Rodgers: or 412-263-1416. First Published March 12, 2013 10:15 AM


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