(Vatican Radio) There was no doubt about it: it was shortly after 7:40 pm Tuesday
evening in Rome that the charcoal black smoke came billowing out of the smokestack
above the Sistine Chapel, signalling that Cardinals meeting in day one of their conclave
were unsuccessful in electing a new pope. Tracey McClure reports:
Out in St.
Peter’s square under dark and heavy clouds, hundreds had gathered with umbrellas aloft
to gaze upwards at the chimney in the hopes of being among the first to catch a glimpse
of the smoke: white indicating the Cardinals had chosen a Pontiff; black, confirming
that they had not found sufficient consensus for any one candidate.
spotlights were trained on the smokestack to illuminate the smoke against the thick
backdrop of darkness and inclement weather.
The 115 Cardinal electors had entered
the Sistine Chapel at about 4:30 local time and opened the conclave by taking a solemn
oath of fidelity and secrecy. After prayer and meditation and after the last of the
non-electors had left the chapel, the senior Cardinal responsible for the proceedings,
Giovanni Battista Re, asked his fellow Cardinals to proceed with the voting for the
265th Successor of Peter.
Beginning Wednesday morning and for each
subsequent day of the conclave, the Cardinal electors will be expected to vote in
two morning and two afternoon ballots each day. The two morning or the two afternoon
ballots are burned together so there will only be two smoke signals per day: one sometime
around noon, the other at about 7 p.m. local time.
Of course, if a pope is
elected in the morning’s first ballot, people can expect to see white smoke billow
forth between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. The same holds true for the first afternoon ballot:
should a pontiff be elected then, white smoke should be visible between 5:30 and 6:00
Then, the real suspense begins: who has been elected Pope? Typically,
it takes about forty minutes between the time the new Pope must accept the office,
change into white vestments and hear the Cardinals pledge their obedience to him before
we finally hear the words, “Habemus Papam” from the central loggia of St. Peter’s