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Pope in rare brainstorming session with cardinals

Written by: Staff
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VATICAN CITY, Mar 23 (Reuters) Pope Benedict today began a brainstorming session with his top advisers on major issues facing the Church as he prepared to elevate new cardinals to the elite group that will one day choose his successor.

Benedict was holding what the Vatican has billed a ''day of reflection and prayer'' with more than 150 men who are already cardinals and the 15 new members who will receive their red cardinal's hat at a solemn ceremony at the Vatican tomorrow.

The day-long, closed-door meeting was taking place in an amphitheatre-shaped auditorium equipped with microphones and simultaneous translations and it was clear from opening remarks that there would be more debate and discussion than prayer.

After the 78-year-old German Pope opened the meeting with a Latin prayer, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano said the meeting would discuss ''the big pastoral challenges of the day'' and ''questions of great importance''.

''Your Holiness will now tell us the subjects on which you wish to hear our opinion and gather our advice,'' Sodano said before the closed circuit link with journalists was cut.

Several participants said before the meeting they expected a free and open discussion on key issues facing the Church.

The meeting is the first time the Pope and his cardinals have discussed the problems of the Roman Catholic Church since he was elected last April to lead a worldwide flock of 1.1 billion.

Among the issues expected to be discussed are dialogue with other religions, the need for more vocations to the priesthood, and the Pope's plans for changes in the Vatican.

SHAKE-UP Earlier this month, the Pope began a long-awaited streamlining of the Vatican's central bureaucracy by merging the leadership of four departments, including one which promotes dialogue with Islam.

Vatican sources say the Pope believes the number of departments in the Curia has grown too much in recent decades, with some of their work overlapping more than necessary.

He is reported to want to enact more changes and wants the opinion of the cardinals, who act as his top advisers at the Vatican and around the world in the running of the Church.

Among those who will receive the red cardinal's hat tomorrow are Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, Pope John Paul II's secretary, and China's Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the pro-democracy bishop of Hong Kong.

Zen told Reuters in an interview earlier this month he hoped to be able to mediate between the Vatican and Beijing's communist government, which does not allow Catholics to recognise the Pope's authority.

Another new cardinal is Boston Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, who is being recognised for his work cleaning up after the diocese's sex abuse scandal involving priests that forced his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard Law, to resign in 2002.

Another American getting the cardinal's red hat tomorrow is William Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco whom the Pope appointed to succeed him as head of the Vatican's powerful doctrinal department.

After tomorrow's ceremony, known as a consistory, the Church will have a total of 193 cardinals, 120 of them under 80 and thus eligible to enter a conclave to choose a pope.

REUTERS DKS PM1659

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