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VATICAN CITY: The Vatican installed a special chimney on the Sistine Chapel from which white smoke will signal the election of a new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics as cardinals prepare for the centuries-old tradition starting on Tuesday.
The conclave of 115 cardinal electors will be held under Michelangelo’s famous frescoes to choose the 266th Pope, after the ageing Benedict XVI became the first pope to resign since the Middle Ages saying he wanted to be “a simple pilgrim” again.
French cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris, told AFP in an interview that there were around “half a dozen possible candidates.”
Italian cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, is often cited as a favourite, along with Canada’s Marc Ouellet and Brazil’s Odilo Scherer.
Other names mentioned on the rumour mill in recent days have been Hungary’s Peter Erdo, Mexico’s Jose Francisco Robles Ortega, Austria’s Christoph Schoenborn and Sri Lanka’s Albert Malcolm Ranjith.
“The problem with this conclave is that there is no early frontrunner like Joseph Ratzinger in 2005,” said John Allen, a Vatican expert at the National Catholic Reporter, a US weekly.
Luis Antonio Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, a youthful and popular cardinal with strong pastoral skills, has also been mentioned as a possible.
The first vote will be on Tuesday after cardinals move into a Vatican residence where they will live in total isolation for the duration of the conclave and celebrate a special mass “For the Election of the Roman Pontiff” in St Peter’s Basilica.
Cardinals will swear a solemn oath not to reveal the secrets of their deliberations on pain of excommunication at 1545 GMT on Tuesday after which the actual conclave will begin, the
The strict rules also apply to their residence, St Martha’s House, where windows will be locked and telephones allowed for internal use only. Ballots will usually be burnt daily at 1100 GMT and 1800 GMT, with the smoke turned black to show no two-thirds majority has been found or white to signal that a papal election has taken place.
The conclave could last up to a few days.
The decision on the date of the conclave was taken on Friday at one of a series of closed-door meetings held by cardinals over the past week to discuss the many challenges facing the next Pope.
Cardinals, with no new Pope to defer to and no late Pope to grieve over, have seized on the rare chance to air grievances against the Vatican administration and call for greater transparency.
The 85-year-old Benedict last month admitted he was too weak in body and mind to keep up with a fast-changing modern world and became only the second head of the Catholic Church ever to resign by choice in its 2,000-year history. “Pope emeritus” Benedict has stayed out of pre-conclave debates.