Opening bell at the cardinals’ meeting with Pope Benedict

Dutch Cardinal Adrianus Simonis arrives by bicycle for a meeting with other cardinals and Pope Benedict. (CNS/Paul Haring)With different modes of transportation, cardinals from around the world arrived for a meeting with Pope Benedict on Friday, the day before a consistory to create 23 new cardinals.

A pool of journalists watched as cardinals entered the Synod Hall building one by one. Some came by foot, some were chauffeured and one — 75-year-old Dutch Cardinal Adrianus Simonis — rode a bicycle to the meeting hall.

Cardinal-designate John P. Foley stepped out of his car and began chatting with reporters on the other side of the press pen. Within seconds he looked up, a bit surprised, to see a cluster of fuzzy boom mikes overhead. “I guess my every word is being recorded,” he remarked.

The Philadelphia native had been feeling under the weather all week, but he wasn’t about to miss this meeting. Like the others being made a cardinal Saturday, he wore his bishop’s purple today.

“The red goes on tomorrow,” he said.

Near the building’s entrance, a vehicle dropped off Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston, who went directly inside. Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, energetic as always, jumped out of his car before it even stopped moving and began conferring with fellow Italians in the parking lot.

Those who walked were sometimes intercepted. Down near St. Peter’s Square, Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican’s saintmaking office, was sidelined by a stamp collector who asked him to autograph a recent commemorative series.

Inside the atrium of the hall, each cardinal was handed a red folder, which presumably contained a program and the text of the day’s main address on ecumenism by Cardinal Walter Kasper.

Old friends and colleagues greeted each other: Cardinal William J. Levada, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief and the former archbishop of San Francisco, conversed with Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles.

Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow was warmly welcomed by everyone in his path. I asked Cardinal Dziwisz how it felt to come back to the Vatican, where he had spent more than 26 years as secretary to Pope John Paul II. He paused a moment and said, “So many memories,” and then moved into the Synod Hall.

We counted 143 cardinals in the hall at the opening bell. Pope Benedict entered the room to applause and bowed his head for morning prayer. When it was over, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, read a greeting to the pontiff and our reporting pool was ushered out. The business part of this assembly was closed-door.

Before leaving I took a last glance at the room. The pope sat in the center of the dais, at a place that was furnished with a microphone, three monitors, a telephone, a water bottle and his own red folder.

Up against one wall, the translators were already working in their booths.

To the pope’s left, the cardinals-to-be were seated in a group. I noticed that Cardinal-designate Foley was in the front row.

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