Benedict was wheeled into St. Peter's Basilica aboard the moving platform he has been using for several months to spare him the long walk down the center aisle. Benedict, who turns 85 in April, has been slowing down recently: His upcoming trip to Mexico and Cuba, for example, is very light on public appearances, with no political speeches or meetings with civil society planned as has been the norm to date.
Even Saturday's consistory was greatly trimmed back to a slimmer version of the service used in 1969: only one of the cardinals actually read his oath of loyalty aloud, while the others read it silently to themselves simultaneously rather than one after another. A reading was cut out, as was a responsorial psalm.
And at the end of his remarks, Benedict said: "And pray for me, that I may continually offer to the people of God the witness of sound doctrine and guide the holy church with a firm and humble hand."
All of which has led to even more speculation that a conclave is very much on the minds of cardinals new and old.
"It's one of the major responsibilities, and one hopes it doesn't happen too soon," O'Brien said.
The consistory class of 2012 is heavily European, reinforcing Europe's dominance of the College of Cardinals, even though two-thirds of the world's Catholics are in the southern hemisphere. Only three of the new under-80 cardinals — a Brazilian, an Indian and a Chinese — come from developing countries.
Hong Kong Archbishop John Tong Hon spoke Friday about the plight of the Catholic Church in China, where priests and bishops of the underground church loyal to the pope are frequently harassed by government authorities.
Dolan, who has been embroiled in the battle with the Obama administration over health care coverage and contraception, said he got a lesson in what violations of religious freedom really means in the real world.
"I'm just sitting there thinking 'Wow, with all the problems we've got at home, and with even the difficulties we have in talking about the freedom of religion, it's nothing compared to what my brother cardinals throughout the world" are dealing with, Dolan said.
"They know what this red means."
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