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Cardinals enjoy last free time before conclave lockdown

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

As they prepare for conclave lockdown starting on Tuesday, Catholic cardinals have used their free time to sample the Eternal City's gourmet delights and even sneak in a bit of sightseeing.

Cardinals from Britain and the United States have been spotted in some of the Italian capital's eateries enjoying what little time off they have from formal meetings and behind-the-scenes talks on who should be the next pope.

"It's hard to get a bad meal in Rome," quipped Archbishop of Boston Sean O'Malley, one of the 115 "cardinal electors" who will take the momentous decision in the Sistine Chapel in a conclave that will begin on Tuesday.

Cardinals early on Tuesday have to move into St Martha's residence in the Vatican, where they will eat and sleep in total isolation from the outside world for the duration of a papal election held in strictest secrecy.

The capital's famous paparazzi -- who usually spend their time chasing visiting film stars or footballers up to no good -- have been kept busy ahead of the conclave snapping the "Princes of the Church" in Rome's many eateries.

The latest issue of gossip magazine Chi, which caused a scandal with topless photos of Prince William's wife Kate Middleton in September, had a two-page spread with US Cardinal Roger Mahony drinking a glass of wine in a restaurant.

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, has been spotted riding his bike into the Vatican for the pre-conclave "general congregation" talks -- perhaps a way of avoiding the clusters of journalists at the entrance.

British Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the former archbishop of Westminster, waxed lyrical about Rome to one interviewer, remembering an "adorable ecclesiastical village" from when he first visited in 1950.

His US colleague Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, a fluent Italian speaker who also lived in Italy for many years, was spotted thanking the cook at a traditional restaurant near the Vatican after a lunch break.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, wrote a letter to his parishioners saying he was particularly sorry to be missing St Patrick's Day -- the feast day of New York's patron saint which this year falls on March 17.

"So far, I’ve been unable to find any Irish brown bread, corned-beef, or whiskey. Don’t get me wrong, I love the food and wine here in Rome!" he said.

A Brazilian and a Mexican cardinal even found time for a day trip with a great deal of symbolic significance when they went to the city of Viterbo near Rome where the first conclave to elect a pope was held in the 13th century.

Brazil's Raymundo Damasceno Assis and Mexico's Norberto Rivera Carrera toured the imposing papal palace in the city, where the tradition of locking cardinals in to speed up their election of a new pope first began in 1268.

Cardinals then were fed only bread and water. When this failed to speed up the process, protesters tore off the palace's roof leaving electors exposed to the elements. The decision finally came in 1271 after 33 torturous months.

South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, the archbishop of Durban, who took part in the last conclave that elected Benedict XVI in 2005, took to Twitter to tell his online followers what awaits the Roman Catholic Church's modern-day cardinals.

"What's it like in conclave? Apart from NO radio or TV, NO newspapers or phone calls, emails or SMS's, NO Twitter or Facebook, all is normal," he wrote.

"In St Martha, there's no bandwidth of any kind!" he said in another tweet.

"We chat, discuss, get to know each other. Meals are special times. We relax, share stories about our home Churches, dream about the future!"

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130311/cardinals-enjoy-last-free-time-conclave-lockdown