Cardinal Wilfrid Napier
VATICAN CITY – Cardinal-electors are caught in a Catch-22. They are eager to give the world a new pope; however, they need time to pick the right leader, said South Africa's cardinal.
"There might be a need for a long delay" as the cardinals try to gauge how much they do or don't know enough about each other, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier told Catholic News Service March 1.
No Church leader wants to be away from his diocese for too long, he said, and no one wants to miss Easter, March 31.
"Yet no cardinal, on the other hand, wants this process to be fouled up by ill-considered actions" and haste, he said.
"There's a whole Church out there that needs to get an answer, and I'd say sooner rather than later, but they want the right answer," he said.
One part of the process began March 4 with the general congregations, daily meetings in which the cardinals prepare for a conclave, discuss the needs of the Church and handle more serious Church business that must be attended to between popes.
Cardinals use informal meetings and the general congregations to get to know each other. But a key part of the general meetings is to exchange views and reports about the various situations of the Church in different parts of the world, he said.
That way, when they go into the conclave, the cardinals will "have a better idea of the kind of pope we're going to need – some of the issues the pope will have to deal with," he said.
While in 2005 the Easter celebrations, funeral Mass and general congregations led by the then-dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, gave the German cardinal a platform to show his skills as a speaker, pastor and listener, Napier said the congregations also give lesser-ranked cardinals a chance to shine.
He said, "I feel with this conclave coming up, I've had far more exposure to the other cardinals than before the first conclave" he participated in, in 2005.
Appointed to the College of Cardinals in 2001, Napier said that during his first four years as cardinal, he hardly ever got to know the other members.
That changed in large part thanks to Pope Benedict, he said. "When there was a consistory, invariably he'd call the cardinals to a meeting a day before," which gave them an added chance to get together.
"That doesn't mean I still don't have to look up on Google" to see who is who and match a face to a name, he added, laughing.
The 2013 conclave will be a bit harder because "there's a wider field of choices." This time there are "younger cardinals who, I believe, have real qualities of leadership," said Napier, who turns 72 on March 8.
Age is going to be a big factor, with the ideal candidate being between 60 and 65 years old, he said.
Not only is the mental and physical stamina of a younger man needed, "I don't think we can have another short pontificate." That's because time will be needed for a new pope to build on the important foundations left behind by Blessed John Paul II and retired Pope Benedict XVI, he said.
Like Blessed John Paul, it will be important the new pope travel the world, visiting the Catholic faithful, he said. A papal visit makes the Catholic Church "a living reality" for people and revitalizes and reaffirms their faith, which is especially crucial for the New Evangelization.