The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, has written a letter to all parishes and schools in the Diocese about the forthcoming conclave. It reads:
My brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ
Shortly the Cardinals of the Catholic Church will assemble in the Conclave to choose the next Bishop of Rome, who will replace Benedict XVI as Pope and Successor of St Peter.
Much is made of who will and who won't be present in that Conclave. Some voices are raised to complain that 'Britain does not have a voice.'
But if we understand correctly the nature of the Church and of the Conclave then we know that is not the true or full story.
The full story, or account, of the Church is that it is, most profoundly, a spiritual reality. It is not simply an institution or an organisation for religious or humanitarian purposes. It is more than a human community. Its true life and identity is Christ, the sole redeemer and only one who has broken the barrier of death. In the Church we are bound together in Christ. I do more than 'belong to the Church.' The Church is a living reality that enters my soul. It is in the deepest part of my being.
This is why whenever failures and wounds are inflicted on the Church or laid bare, the pain and distress we feel is so intense and deeply personal. In the Church we are immersed together in a reality that not only gives us a new identity, beyond every other, but that also fashions us for eternity.
Prayer is one of the deepest expressions of this reality. Prayer confirms in us our unity in Christ. Prayer strengthens us together in the face of every difficulty and deepens in us together the strength of every joy. Prayer is the heartbeat of the Church, which I feel and to which I contribute. Prayer fashions us together in our common enterprise of being the Body of Christ today.
This reality is expressed in the forthcoming Conclave. This reality is the deeper truth of the Conclave. Through prayer it is truly a Conclave for all. No-one is excluded. Everyone can contribute.
The moment the key turns to begin the Conclave, then we take up a very special time of prayer. Whether the Conclave lasts for two days or two weeks, we sustain that prayer. We pray for each and every Cardinal in his decision taking. They are striving to be, first of all, instruments of God, in some ways like pens in the hand of the Lord. We pray for them that they will respond freely and sensitively to the hand that moves them, the mind that directs them. Christ is that hand whose will is one with that of his heavenly Father.
During the Conclave we pray as the Church and for the Church, knowing that this prayer unites us in a common action, a common endeavour: that the new Pope, elected by the Cardinals, is the one chosen by the will of God.
This prayer is our part, our participation, in the Conclave, our contribution to its decision. This is our way of seeking what is best for the Church at this crucial moment in our history.
Do not neglect this task that is given to each one of us. Please make the time of the Conclave a time of very special prayer, in our homes, our schools, our parishes and in the silence of our hearts.
Archbishop of Westminster