By Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis will create his first cardinals during a consistory Feb. 22, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
The pope also is expected to use the occasion “to have a meeting with the cardinals for consultations” immediately before the ceremony, as retired Pope Benedict XVI did in the run-up to his consistories, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman. No specific dates were given for that meeting.
Father Lombardi told reporters Oct. 31 that also in mid-February, the pope will have members of the governing council of the Synod of Bishops meet in preparation for the extraordinary session on the family in October 2014 and to have his Council of Cardinals, the group of eight advisers, hold what will be their third gathering.
The spokesman said that the pope wanted to hold a consistory for the creation of new cardinals during the same time period as the cardinals’ other meetings “to facilitate all these appointments.”
The group of eight cardinals will probably meet Feb. 17 and 18, Father Lombardi said, to continue their work on helping the pope reform the Roman Curia. The group met Oct. 1-3 and scheduled its second meeting at the Vatican for early December.
The synod council will meet Feb. 24-25, Father Lombardi said, to discuss the extraordinary synod the pope convoked for Oct. 5-19, 2014, to discuss the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”
The annual meeting of the Council of Cardinals for the Study of the Organizational and Economic Problems of the Holy See also will be held in February, as it is every year.
When the Feb. 22 consistory date arrives, Pope Francis could create at least 14 new cardinals.
As of Oct. 31, there were 201 cardinals, 109 of whom were under age 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave. Three more cardinals turn 80 before Feb. 22 and another will turn 80 less than a month later.
The technical limit on the number of voting-age cardinals is 120. That means that if the pope respects that ceiling, he could name 14 new ones. Blessed John Paul II sometimes set aside the 120 limit, swelling the ranks to as many as 135 under-80 cardinals. The all-time record number of all cardinals was set in 2012 under Pope Benedict when the College of Cardinals reached 213 members.
Pope Francis’ first consistory also will offer clues about how he intends to use the College of Cardinals during his papacy, which, he has already shown, he sees as an instrumental advisory body.
Father Lombardi also confirmed other appointments on the pope’s calendar, including the episcopal ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica Nov. 15 of Legionaries of Christ Bishop-designate Fernando Vergez, whom the pope named Oct. 15 to be the new secretary-general of Vatican City.
The pope will also visit a Camaldolese Benedictine monastery in Rome Nov. 21; meet catechumens Nov. 23; hold vespers with Rome’s university students Nov. 30; and make a parish visit the first Sunday of Advent, Dec. 1, to the Church of St. Cyril in the Alessandrino neighborhood on the eastern edge of Rome.