Cardinals to Meet in May: An Extraordinary Consistory, scheduled to take place in the Vatican from May 21 - 24, will be the biggest meeting ever of the Cardinals of the Catholic Church. After the appointments of February 21, 2001, there are 183 Cardinals -- many more than there ever has been before. One hundred and thirty-five of them are under the 80-year-old cut-off age that the present Pope, John Paul II, has decreed for voting for his successor. Almost all of the Cardinals were appointed by John Paul during his long reign as Pope, and all will be expected to attend the meeting.

The Vatican announcement of February 26 said that the meeting's agenda will be the contents of a letter the Pope issued in January, but the fact that the meeting is scheduled to start on the first work day after the Pope's own 81st birthday has already aroused speculation that he might retire and that a Papal election might be added to the agenda at the last minute.