- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington and one of 117 cardinals who will choose the next pope, says that today’s send-off for Pope John Paul II will be “the greatest funeral in the history of the world.”

“There has never been a funeral like this,” Cardinal McCarrick told The Washington Times. “People are coming from all over the world. I think that all of Poland is coming.”

He spoke in the tranquil gardens of the sprawling North American College on the Gianiculum Hill overlooking Vatican City, where pilgrims have come by the millions to pay their respects to John Paul.

Cardinal McCarrick said he was startled by the size of the event the funeral is becoming.

“It will be done beautifully, I am sure,” he said. “We need to give all these lovely people a beautiful ceremony. This is going to be the greatest funeral in the history of the world.”

Cardinal McCarrick, 74, a leading voice in the Catholic Church in America and a confidant of John Paul, has served as archbishop of Washington since Jan. 3, 2001.

A gentle man who radiates warmth through his cheerful, if understated demeanor, Cardinal McCarrick often performs high-profile missions overseas.

He traveled to Sri Lanka after the Dec. 26 tsunami to deliver millions of dollars in aid from Catholic Relief Services.

Last night, Cardinal McCarrick attended a reception given by U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler to mark the arrival of President Bush, first lady Laura Bush, former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the Eternal City.

The president had a private visit to see the remains of the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday night in a show of respect that transcended the differences between the two world leaders.

This is the first time a U.S. president will attend a papal funeral and Cardinal McCarrick was jubilant at the prospect.

“The president has invited a number of people to the reception … he brought his father and President Clinton. It is going to be fun to see them together.”

Asked about the College of Cardinals’ current preparations for the conclave that will start meeting April 18 to name a successor to John Paul, Cardinal McCarrick said that after the funeral, the 117 cardinals, aged under 80 and therefore eligible to elect the next pontiff, would reflect on the needs of the Church that the next incumbent of St. Peter’s throne will have to address.

“I ask the people to pray for me and my brother cardinals, that we are humble. As we approach this task, I am filled with awe. This is a scary part of my life,” he said.

Cardinal McCarrick said it was too early to judge the impact of the new conclave rules introduced by the pope himself in the apostolic Constitution of 1996, including switching from a two-thirds majority requirement to a simple majority requirement for election of a pope if a new leader is not found within an initial period of balloting.

“One can hope that it won’t be a drawn-out conclave. But only God knows that,” he said.

The archbishop of Washington also declined to speculate on the kind of pope who might be elected or what the main issues behind the scenes at the conclave would be.

“I am not there yet,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “Ask me in a couple of weeks.”

Aides to the cardinal said he had been heartened on Sunday when, before leaving for Rome, he had received spontaneous applause from parishioners in his archdiocese after celebrating Mass.

“People obviously felt like their guy was going to Rome,” one assistant said.

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