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March 18, 2013

By the time you read this, the College of Cardinals will most likely have elected a new pope. However, before the conclave began, the cardinals appear to have gone to great lengths in discussing the issues facing the Church and drawing a profile of the man best able to meet those challenges.

Alas! While they may know what they want in a pope, it is not so easy to know which man best embodies the qualities they have set down. The cardinals surely know each other much better than the media know the leading candidates. However, the best way to know a leader is to see him operate on his home turf.

You can tell much about a leader by observing his closest advisors. There are leaders whose advisors are obsequious in his presence, but ravenous wolves when dealing with their peers and subordinates. While those advisors may be highly competent, they know how to increase their own power by appealing to the leader's vanity.

Conversely, some leaders are people of the Beatitudes. They surround themselves with the meek, the lowly, the halt and the lame – those who might not find their place in life if not for the beneficence of the leader. Such leaders may never win awards for efficiency, but they witness to the truth of the Gospel.

Other leaders are schemers and their advisors will go through walls to enhance the leader's power. Such "leaders" are perhaps more common in the halls of politics than in the Church, but they are not unknown there too.

There are leaders of vision and efficiency. Their advisors are problem-solvers adept at implementing the leader's vision. These leaders are effective. But their strength is their weakness – they may exert too tight a control and have little trust in those outside the inner circle.

Then there is the Great Leader, one who is marked by three features. First, he or she is an excellent judge of character and is not taken in by obsequious fools. Second, the leader draws helpers from a wide spectrum of his community to meet the unique needs of the moment. Third, the leader trusts his or her advisors and gives them the freedom they need to do their jobs well. Under the Great Leader, the whole community flourishes.

To judge the qualities of a leader, one needs time and a bird's eye view. It is difficult to do this well from afar. So, when the cardinals go into conclave, we need to storm heaven with our prayers. Even if they have the profile of the leader they want, only the Holy Spirit can show them who actually meets that profile.

What they seek to do is not impossible, but it is humanly quite difficult. The Veni, Creator Spiritus the cardinals sing as they enter the Sistine Chapel is not fluff on top of several days of dialogue. It is the essential prayer needed for their reflections to bear the proper fruit.