Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, departed for Rome Sunday after presiding over a Mass of Thanksgiving for the departing Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Weurl, who celebrated the noon Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, is one of 11 American Cardinals of voting age (under 80) who will be part of the conclave to elect a successor to the current pontiff, who announced earlier this month that he would step aside effective February 28.
“While he will step aside from that chair, while he may leave his Petrine office, he will never leave our hearts which are filled with respect, admiration and love for him,” Cardinal Wuerl said during his homily.
Benedict XVI is the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415 and the first to do so without external pressure since Celestine V in 1294. Most popes have held the office until their death.
When our holy father was elected, he said it was going to be a short pontificate because of his age," Cardinal Wuerl told News4's Derrick Ward. "But i did not expect that it would come to a conclusion like this."
A two-thirds majority of the 116 voting cardinals is required to elect a new pope, who must also formally accept the office. Under the apostolic constitution, the conclave is supposed to start between 15 and 20 days after the papacy becomes vacant. However, due to the potential for the conclave to stretch into Holy Week (March 24-31) if a new pope is not elected quickly, the Vatican has said that the conclave may begin sooner than the earliest prescribed date of March 15 if the cardinals arrive before the expected date.