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The next pope: Southern California seminarians to pray for 24 hours in support

In anticipation of the papal conclave assembling to elect a new pope next month, St. John's seminary in Camarillo, Calif., is finding its own way to participate in the process.

When the Roman Catholic Church's 117 cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel – which could be as early as March 10 — St. John's 82 seminarians will pray continuously for them during an all-night adoration, organized by Monsignor Craig Cox, the rector of St. John's seminary.

The practice is modeled after the seminary's custom of praying 24 consecutive hours for a new priest prior to his ordination. Each seminarian will sign up for a time slot so that the seminary's chapel remains occupied for those 24 hours.

“It’s important that we not just be spectators, but that we join in as well,” said Cox, who discussed the adoration idea with St. John’s spiritual formation team as soon as they learned of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, which takes effect on Feb. 28.

In addition to the seminary’s daily mass intentions and prayers for the conclave, Cox hopes the adoration will help the seminarians feel more involved in a “very significant historical moment that happens very rarely in church history,” he said.

Nearly unprecedented

Pope Benedict’s resignation – which is being attributed to advanced age – is the first papal resignation in 600 years. The last occurred in 1415, when Pope Gregory XII resigned in an effort to resolve multiple claims to the papacy during the Great Western Schism.

The Associated Press reported there’s “no clear frontrunner” among the current papal contenders, but the favored candidates hail from Africa and Latin America, which could signal an unprecedented shift away from a European papacy.

What matters to Cox is that the new pope focuses on priestly vocations – something he says both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict “took very much to heart.”

Cox credits Pope John Paul II for recognizing “what it takes for men to serve in the priesthood in this day and age.” Pope John Paul was also influential in creating the “Program of Priestly Formation,” which every U.S. seminary now follows to better support its seminarians.

Like his predecessor, Pope Benedict also had a passion for vocations. He would write to the seminarians, impart “fatherly advice” and often include them in his homilies, Cox says.

“Both of these holy fathers we’ve had recently had a real deep love for wanting to foster vocations,” Cox says. “Certainly the new holy father will be different. ... My hope is that he will continue to do things like this and eventually make a contribution to us.”

This story is one in an occasional series of reports by students taking part in a class of the USC Annenberg Knight Program on Media and Religion, headed by Diane Winston. Thanks to a grant from the Luce Foundation, Annenberg students have covered global religion, culture and politics for the past four years. This year's journalism class is headed to Ireland and Northern Ireland for 10 days in March and, in preparation, its students are covering Los Angeles' Catholic communities. The nine students are a mix of undergraduates, second year grad students and mid-career professionals.