Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, whose name is floating as a possible candidate for pope, said his last Mass on Friday before he heads to Rome to attend the resignation ceremony of Pope Benedict XVI and participate in the conclave that will decide who takes the helm of the 1.2-billion strong Roman Catholic Church.
“In these days, there will be endless speculation about candidates and outcomes,” O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, told about 200 parishioners at the pastoral center in Braintree. “I assure you no cardinal goes into the conclave with the ambition of being chosen for this overwhelming responsibility.”
O’Malley injected humor into his half-hour sermon on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle to celebrate Benedict’s eight years as pope, at one point comparing Peter with television characters Archie Bunker and Ralph Kramden for losing his temper and running away. “Yet we see how the Lord called him to a very special role in the life of the church, a role of leadership,” he said.
The cardinal struck a serious tone when he praised Benedict, saying that in finishing his tenure in the ministry of Peter, he “has given us all an example of living a life of discipleship in faith, hope, and love.”
Benedict has said he will resign on Feb. 28. The Vatican has summoned a conclave of cardinals that must begin 15 to 20 days after that date. Cardinals eligible to vote — those under age 80 — will be sequestered within Vatican City and take an oath of secrecy. There are currently 117 cardinals, including O’Malley, eligible to vote.
“And when the conclave has done its work and a new successor of Peter is named, let us all rally around him joyfully and enthusiastically so that together we can accomplish the mission that the Lord has entrusted to us,” said O’Malley, 68.
“For us, it must not matter where the pope comes from, what color he is, how tall or how short, what language he speaks or doesn’t speak. What is important is that he becomes the successor of Peter, the pope of Rome and of the world, the one destined to walk in the shoes of the fisherman and confirm us in our faith.”
O’Malley shook hands with the faithful as they left the center, and several people told him they would love to see him as the next pope.
“As a matter of fact when I spoke with him just now, what I said to him was, ‘Your Eminence, I really hope that you are our next Holy Father,” said Carol Cohoon, 73, of Quincy, who attends St. Agatha’s Church in Milton.
“He’s a very humble, smart man who speaks many languages, but he’s very very humble in his Franciscan habit, wearing his sandals,” Cohoon said. “I’ve always loved him. I’m proud to be a Catholic today and I know God is in charge of the rest of the world and our new pope, but I do hope it’s Cardinal O’Malley.”
Asked last week about whether he would be interested in the job, O’Malley said with a laugh, “I haven’t lost any sleep about it, and I have bought a round-trip ticket.’’
O’Malley added, “I don’t think that it’s anything that I would aspire to. . . . It’s a very, very challenging position. It’s a very lonely position. It’s a very difficult task, but we’re there as cardinals to pray and encourage each other, knowing that someone needs to do it and hopefully we will be able to serve what God’s will is.”
While O’Malley is in Rome, Bishop Robert P. Deeley will preside over the Mass of Thanksgiving celebrating Benedict’s tenure and the election of a new pope. The service will be at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
The Rev. William Joy, pastor of St. Angela’s Church in Mattapan and St. Matthew’s Church in Dorchester, said while it may be courtesy to toss one or two American names in the mix, both Cardinal O’Malley and New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan have what it takes to be pope.
“Cardinal Sean is very knowledgeable of Latin America, he has a good global picture of the world and the church, and has good language skills,” Joy said. “And I’m sure there’s a number of other very capable cardinals out there too.”Brian Ballou can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBallou.