ROME—Monday, after the "Extra omnes" (Everyone out) order has been given, and the 115 voting-eligible cardinals have settled into the Sistine Chapel to pick the next pope, one extra man will remain.
Czech-born Cardinal Tomas Spidlik, at 85, is too old to vote. But his influence may be great: Spidlik will deliver a "state of the church" talk, the last outside voice the cardinals will hear before they begin their deliberations.
"He's an interesting choice, because he's so closely tied to the issue of bringing together the eastern and western churches," said John L. Allen Jr., who covers the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter and has written several books about the church, including "Conclave," a look at the papal selection process. "He'll lay out the direction the church should head. He's way too smart to give a campaign speech, and it will all be oblique and indirect, but they'll listen to him."
Of course, no one knows exactly what he'll say. Cardinals have taken an oath of silence about the process. Reached this week, Spidlik said he was simply too busy to talk to the media.
But his inclusion as the final speaker to address the conclave—he was chosen by the cardinals—is seen as a sign that the church is committed to finishing an unfulfilled mission of John Paul II, healing the breach between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity that began in 1054, when the leading bishops of Rome and Constantinople split over papal authority.
John Paul worked to establish greater contact with the Orthodox churches, but his hopes to visit Russia were thwarted by leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, who accused the Catholic Church of attempting to steal worshippers.
Spidlik has long been identified with efforts to heal the breach. The work he is best known for, the redesign of a papal chapel, combined artwork from both western and eastern sources. He once noted the need for the modern church to "breathe with two lungs, one the West, the other the East."
Spidlik is also known to share strong views on the need "for the spiritual reconquest of Europe," a reference to concern that the church has lost influence in Europe and must work to regain it. It is a perspective shared by supporters of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals and one of the leading candidates to replace John Paul.
Spidlik's talk is officially one of two "de eligendo pontifice" (on electing the Pontiff) meditations. The first took place Thursday and was delivered by a Franciscan priest, Raniero Cantalamessa, who had served since 1980 as John Paul's personal preacher.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls described Cantalamessa's talk as a meditation to help the cardinals "make an enlightened choice." Italian press reports—as usual, without attribution—said Cantalamessa told the cardinals to restrain their personal ambitions.
"Be guided by the Holy Spirit," he reportedly said. "Do not give in to the temptation to advertise yourselves. Don't be ambitious."
"At the end of the meditation, the cardinals dedicated a period of time to silence and prayer," Navarro-Valls said. That was followed, Navarro-Valls said, by "an exchange of ideas on the situation of the church and the world," which Italian reports called a debate on everything from abortion to euthanasia to divorce.
Spidlik comes from what is now the Czech Republic, considered by many as the European nation with the least interest in the Roman Catholic Church, or religion in general. But his influence is considerable.
He entered seminary in the Netherlands after the Nazis closed the universities in what was then known as Czechoslovakia and moved to Rome after in 1948 when Soviet control of his country prevented his return there. In Rome, he earned a doctorate at the Papal Institute of Eastern Studies.
He has worked for Vatican Radio, where he produced broadcasts into his old homeland. After the Soviet Union collapsed, he was given one of the Czech Republic's highest honors, the Masaryk Order.
He also spent the past 20 years as an adviser to the Congregation on Canonization, and more recently to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
In the past, when addressing secular audiences, he has discussed the need for understanding between Eastern and Western Europe.
"A united Europe is rising," he said a year ago to an audience in Prague. "European Union enlargement has been discussed by politicians and economists, but it is also necessary to think about the joint spiritual values, which are important for the world's future."
He noted in an interview after being named a cardinal two years ago that the honor meant little to him. But he said it was important because it showed the pope was committed to continued efforts at reconciliation.
"The church isn't whole without West and East coming together," he said. It is expected to be the message he delivers to the cardinals—and the next pope—when he speaks Monday.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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