With a thick puff of black smoke from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, day one of the conclave on Tuesday ends with no conclusive first vote in the conclave to elect a new pope at a time when the Roman Catholic Church really need a leader. The smoke came at 2:41 p.m. U.S. Eastern time leaving the church’s 115 cardinals to meet Wednesday morning to vote for the second day to elect a pope needing at least 77 votes to elect a new pope. There will be up to four votes per day until a pope is elected. If a new pope is elected, white smoke will be released from the Sistine Chapel at 5:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. Italy), 7 a.m., 12:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. and if no pope is elected then black smoke will rise from the chapel at 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. Times may vary and times are estimated based on previous elections and predictions. The new pope must accept the position before the white smoke is released and as promised if the smoke is released at night then the Sistine Chapel chimney will be lit for onlookers to see the smoke as it was on Tuesday. Of course, as stipulated, if no pope is elected by Friday then the cardinals will pause Saturday for reflection and prayers thus continuing the voting pattern until 34th voting round which will lead to a runoff between top candidates. Once the white smoke is released, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica will ring as in 2005 and the senior cardinal deacon, French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, will stand on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica shouting “Habemus Papam!” (“We have a new pope!”) then present the new pope with his white papal cassocks to give his first blessing as pope. Thousands watched in St. Peter’s Square as the black smoke poured out of the narrow flue in the rain following a day rich in ritual and pageantry.
After prayer for divine guidance, the cardinals took an oath in Latin to never divulge any details of their deliberation before they secluded themselves behind the chapel’s heavy wooden doors. No conclave in modern times has elected a pope the first day and some cardinals believe it could take four or five days to pick a man to replace the recently retired Pope Benedict. The “Princes of the Church” will spend the night in a Vatican hotel then begin day two of voting in the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday with two rounds of voting one in the morning and two in the afternoon. Voting will continue until a new pontiff is appointed and communication with the outside world will be smoke from the Chapel chimney indicated by black smoke when the voting sessions end with no result and white smoke when a pontiff is elected. Whom ever becomes the 266th pontiff of the Catholic church in its 2,000 year history will face several challenges including sex abuse scandals, infighting within the Vatican bureaucracy and the secularism in its European heartland and beyond. No clear cut contenders have emerged since some want a stronger manager to control the Curia and others calling for a powerful pastor to promote faith around the world. The doors of the Sistine Chapel were closed at 5:34 p.m. after the master of ceremonies, Guido Marini, said “Extra Omnes” or “Everyone Out” asking those no associate with the gathering to leave the room except Maltese Cardinal Prosper Grech, an 87 year old who is too old to participate in the vote, who gave a sermon to remind the 115 cardinal electors of their responsibility.
The faithful gathered in Rome in hopes that a new leader would bring change after a difficult eight year reign by Pope Benedict. As Maria Dasdores Paz, a Brazilian nun who attended the Mass explains to Reuters that the new pope “must be a great pastor with a big heart, and also have the capacity to confront the Church’s problems, which are very great…Every day there seem to be more.” All of the prelates in the Sistine Chapel were appointed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI or Pope John Paul II and the next pope will certainly defend the traditional moral teachings of the church, but many point out the failures of Benedict and Paul to reform the Curia leaving many feeling that the next pope must be a good chief executive or have good management put in place under him. Several papal candidate have been discussed including Italian and non-Italian prelates with growing pressure to choose a pontiff from somewhere else in the world since only 24 percent of Catholics live in Europe. Only time will tell if the next pope will live up to the position or falter in one respect or another as popes before him have.