Alle-Kiski Valley native may play key role in election of pope

| Sunday, March 3, 2013, 12:14 a.m.

One of the Alle-Kiski Valley's native sons will have a leading role in determining who the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church will be.

The retired Cardinal of the Detroit Archdiocese Adam Maida, an East Vandergrift native, will travel to Rome on Wednesday to take part in meetings between all the world's cardinals, the College of Cardinals.

Maida, who will be 83 on March 18, can't vote for the new pope — because of a rule that allows only cardinals younger than 80 to vote. But he still can voice his opinion when the cardinals meet to select a successor to Benedict XVI, who officially resigned the title on Thursday.

“We (the cardinals) need to meet and discuss the different issues that face us,” Maida said of the meetings known as the Congregation Assemblies. “When you have cardinals that come from the whole world, you can imagine the diversity in experience.”

Maida said the meetings that take place before the conclave, when the vote for a pope takes place, are when voters get a chance to see who may be the best candidate for the office.

“Those meetings go on for three or four days,” he said. “Those days, it's just the cardinals that speak. We have a dialogue with each other.

“As a result, you learn a lot about people and what they think — how they address problems.”

Because this is Maida's second time in Rome for the election of a pope, he believes he will be a good resource for the cardinals who are voting.

“I bring the experience of being to a conclave before,” he said. “I was able to vote at the election of Pope Benedict (in 2005).

“Almost half of the cardinals have been appointed during the time of Pope Benedict, so this will be a new experience for them.”

Maida is one of 16 cardinals from the United States who will be going to Rome for the election.

Like Maida, two others are too old to vote.

When the papal seat is empty, all voting eligible cardinals are required to attend the conclave. All active cardinals must be in Rome by Monday.

The date on which the voting conclave will convene will be announced this week.

Two-thirds — or 79 of the 118 cardinals eligible to vote at the conclave — will have to vote for one person to be named pope, according to Roman Catholic Doctrine.

Inside the conclave

Maida is one of a small percentage of people who know what it's like to be in the room when the religious leader of more than a billion people worldwide is elected.

“I can't give you many specifics about what happens in the conclave,” he said of the notoriously secretive voting process. “I can tell you no one talks, you just vote.

“All of the talking takes place in the Congregation Assemblies,” Maida added.

Voting for the pope takes place inside the historic Sistine Chapel, which is famous for its centuries-old artwork, especially the ceiling mural painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512.

“During the actual voting process, each cardinal writes a name on the piece of paper, walks up to the Altar of the Last Judgment and puts it into something that looks like an urn,” Maida said. “Every cardinal that votes takes an oath that he is voting for the person he believes is the best candidate to carry on the privilege of being the Holy Father.”

Maida said the process can be long, and after a while the setting of the vote can wear off.

“I've been to the Sistine Chapel many times with a guidebook,” he said. “Sitting there for a couple of days, somehow the artwork doesn't come through anymore.”

Maida said he feels more than lucky to be going to his second papal election.

“You ask the Lord, ‘Why am I here?' There have been so many people much brighter and much more gifted,” he said. “But, then again, why did the Lord choose the fisherman to be the first pope?”

Maida said when a pope is finally elected, there's a joyous atmosphere in Vatican City.

“It's just like having a new child in the family,” he said. “He'll be the new Holy Father, and hopefully the people will accept and celebrate him.”

Shocked by resignation

Maida said that when news broke that Pope Benedict XVI would resign as pope, it came as quite a surprise, but he understood.

“I was shocked, and then on reflection when he said how his body weakened with old age, I can understand that,” Maida said. “Being 83 myself, I can't do what I did 10 years ago.

“The calendar he had to keep every day — it's mind-boggling how one person can do that. It's a very difficult position to be in.

“He did it for the good of the Church, not because he wants to go out and play tennis,” he said. “I've been retired now for four years; it's sacred time. I spend two or three hours a day in prayer — it's not a burden, it's a real gift. It's a quieter time and one you experience with great peace.

“When you're at peace with the Lord, you can't beat that.”

Remembering his roots

Maida said he thinks fondly of East Vandergrift and the Alle-Kiski Valley as a whole.

“I'm a very proud citizen of East Vandergrift, where I was raised,” he said. “It was in that community that I received my values, and where my vocation was born to be a priest.

“That whole area has always been a great place with wonderful, hard-working people,” Maida added. “I'm grateful I had the opportunity to grow up there.”

Maida said he still makes it back to the Alle-Kiski Valley.

“Mostly for funerals and weddings,” he said. “Most all of my family still lives out there, so I get back that way.”

Maida said he hopes to make it back to the area in August for Vandergrift's Festa Italiana.

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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