The process of electing a successor to retired Pope Benedict XVI begins on Tuesday, with a morning Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, CNN reports.
The service will be the last public event with the 115 cardinals who are responsible for choosing the new spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
Cardinals taking part in the process will later move to the Sistine Chapel, chanting prayers during their way, to begin the secret election called the conclave.
After that, the world will be aware of what is happening inside by periodic puffs of smoke from a copper chimney installed over the weekend in the Sistine Chapel.
“We are ready to enter the conclave and it will be longer than the last one,” South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier told reporters on Monday, referring to the 2005 election of Benedict, that was wrapped up in 24 hours after four ballots.
“It will last a few days. Maybe four or five,” he predicted.
Black smoke means that no pope was elected. White smoke, success.
Rome was preparing for the conclave on Monday, from the 5,600 journalists the Vatican said had been accredited to cover the event to the red curtains unfurled from the central balcony at St. Peter’s, the spot where the world will meet the new pope once he is elected.
The cardinals will probably vote Tuesday, but they don’t have to, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Monday.
On Friday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, one of the candidates more likely to become pope, said the meetings have focused less on scandals facing the church and more on spiritual matters.
“We cardinals sure are praying a lot,” Dolan wrote in his blog post, adding that the focus of the cardinals’ meetings is much the same as it was two millenniums ago, namely:
“How most effectively to present the Person, message, and invitation of Jesus to a world that, while searching for salvation and eternal truth, are also at times doubting, skeptical, too busy, or frustrated.”
He said, “Those are the ‘big issues.’ You may find that hard to believe, since the ‘word on the street’ is that all we talk about is corruption in the Vatican, sexual abuse, money. Do these topics come up? Yes! Do they dominate? No!”
The scandals started again on Monday after the Vatican Press Office denied conclave accreditation to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, an author of the book revealing scandals within the Vatican. The book was based partly on documents leaked from Benedict’s personal apartments.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters the accreditation had been denied because Nuzzi applied as a documentary filmmaker, not as a journalist.
Meanwhile, the Italian press is speculating about which cardinal may win enough support from his counterparts to become elected as a new pope, and what regional alliances are being formed.
The United States has 11 of the 115 votes, making it the second largest national bloc after Italy.
Sixty of the cardinals come from Europe with 67 were appointed by the retired pontiff, who stepped down at the end of last month, becoming the first pope to do so in six centuries.