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Cardinal George Arrives In Rome, Prepares For Emotional Farewell

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Cardinal George arrives in Rome on Tuesday--a day earlier than expected. (CBS)

Cardinal George arrives in Rome on Tuesday–a day earlier than expected. (CBS)

ROME (CBS) — Cardinal George arrived in Rome on Tuesday to pay homage to the retiring Pope Benedict before turning the attention toward choosing a new leader of the Catholic church.

He got here a day earlier than expected to beat the snowstorm currently in Chicago, and kidded those already here to greet him.

“There’s no snow here,” George joked with CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine. “It’s quite nice. I’m a smart fellow to come early I guess.”

Despite arriving with an aide carrying a briefcase bulging with unfinished business, the cardinal will now be able to attend the pope’s last general audience tomorrow before his own face-to-face farewell Thursday.

“It’ll just be a chance to say goodbye to each one of us, which will be a very moving moment I’m sure,” George said.

The cardinal is well aware of the controversy swirling around the transition: The leaked documents alleging sexual and financial misconduct at the Vatican and the sudden resignation of Britain’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien just days before the conclave.

“The most important thing is the event that you have to keep focused on. Controversies are always with us,” George said.

“They come and go. But what is permanent is the rock of Peter. The church is built on that. And this is a moment when we have to take very seriously without too much distraction, the choice that’s before us.”

As to when the cardinals will meet with the Sistine chapel sealed and the voting begins?

The cardinal’s initial thoughts of about 10 days from now seem to be right on.

“I just said 10 days, because you figure, at least a week, and maybe a few days more but that’s just out of thin air.”

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