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None of the cardinals will see it, since they will be sequestered inside the Vatican walls. They are allowed to travel only from the Vatican hotel through the gardens to the Sistine Chapel and back until they have elected a pope. No telephones, no newspapers, no television, no tweeting.
The focus of the ritual is on the Sistine Chapel, the Michelangelo masterwork painted over the course of nearly 30 years starting in 1508, so astonishing Pope John Paul II that he called it "the sanctuary of the theology of the body."
The most famous frescoes are "Creation" is a series of nine frescos running the length of the ceiling, the most well-known of which is the "Creation of Adam," showing God and Adam, their fingers reaching out to one another. "The Last Judgment" fresco behind the altar depicts a muscular Jesus surrounded by naked masses ascending to heaven and falling to hell.
Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, once wrote that the images of the beginning and the end of creation weighed on him when he was an elector in the 1978 conclave that brought John Paul to the papacy.
"I know well how we were exposed to those images in the hour of the important decisions, how they challenged us and how they instilled in our souls the greatness of our responsibility," Ratzinger said in 2003, at the presentation of a book of poetry by John Paul about the Sistine frescoes.
While few people expect a pontiff to be elected on the first ballot, the Vatican was ready: In the Room of Tears off the Sistine Chapel, three sizes of white cassocks hung from a clothes rack. Underneath, seven white shoe boxes were piled, presumably containing the various sizes of the red leather shoes that popes traditionally wear. The room gets its name from the weight of the job thrust upon the new pontiff.
The papal tailor Gammarelli delivered the clothes on Monday to ensure that the newly elected pope could change immediately into papal white as soon as he accepts the election. With the words "Habemus Papam" — or "We have a pope" — the pontiff then appears on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to greet the crowd.
But with so much uncertainty and upheaval going into the conclave, even the American cardinals couldn’t agree on whether to expect a short or long conclave.
Cardinal Dolan this week publicly expressed optimism that the election would be wrapped up quickly. And on the eve of the conclave, he wrote a letter to New York priests, saying: "My guess is that we’d have a new Successor of St. Peter by Thursday evening," according to Dolan’s spokesman, Joseph Zwilling.
That bullish stance stood in stark contrast with the view of Chicago Cardinal Francis George: His spokeswoman, Colleen Dolan, told The Associated Press that the cardinal suggested it could be a long affair. George raised the possibility that the cardinals may still be meeting by Saturday, when conclave rules require the cardinals to take a break and spend some time in prayer before resuming voting.
The faithful in St. Peter’s square were also weighing in on the papal stakes.
"I don’t think it’s going to be a European pope," said Michael Flueckiger, a 38-year-old caretaker and sacristan of a church in Flamatt, Switzerland. "In Europe sometimes I think we have given away the gift of faith. Many people have lost the faith. They have lost their expectation in God."
Rachel Zoll, Karl Ritter and Daniela Petroff contributed.
Watching for results
White smoke or black smoke? Maybe it’s easier just to wait for a text message that a new pope has been elected.
A Catholic organization has set up a website, www.popealarm.com, that lets people register to receive a text or email notification when a pope has been selected.
While the process of selecting a new pope is as old as the ages, there are enough changes to the media to make the last papal conclave — in 2005 — seem like ancient history.
The text service was set up by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS, and had proven so popular with more than 40,000 respondents that the popealarm website said Tuesday it could no longer guarantee new registrants would get a text message. People could still sign up for emails.
“When the smoke goes up, you’ll know what’s going down” is the website’s motto.
FOCUS paid nearly $10,000 to set up the free service, figuring it was good publicity. Now the group’s leaders are sifting through co-sponsorship offers from other organizations impressed with the amount of online traffic it has generated and hoping for their own exposure, said Jeremy Rivera, spokesman for the Christian campus ministry.
Another new website, www.adoptacardinal.org, assigns interested people one of the voting cardinals at random to pray for him as he deliberates on a new pope. Nearly 500,000 people had signed up by Tuesday morning.
American television network stars are in place in Vatican City for the start of the conclave Tuesday. All will wait for the traditional signal that a new pope has been selected: white smoke from the burned ballots of cardinals wafting from a Sistine Chapel chimney.
Two of the three U.S. evening news programs broadcast from Rome on Monday in anticipation of the conclave: ABC’s “World News” with Diane Sawyer and the “CBS Evening News” with Scott Pelley. Brian Williams of NBC’s top-rated “Nightly News” did not make the trip.
In 2005, none of the top network anchors went to Rome for the conclave. Some network planners are reluctant to move broadcasts to Rome for the conclave because it’s an open-ended event; no one knows how long it will last. It’s different for the installation of a new pope, a defined event that can be scheduled around.
Lester Holt is the leading newscaster on hand for NBC News, the network said Monday.
Besides Pelley, CBS has sent its morning-show team of Charlie Rose and Norah O’Donnell to Rome. The other network morning shows will have anchors on scene for special reports — Holt for NBC’s “Today” show and Josh Elliott for “Good Morning America” on ABC.
Shepard Smith, who is Fox News Channel’s top news anchor, is that network’s top person on the scene. CNN has sent Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo, who will trade off coverage during the day and evening. Chris Jansing is the anchor leading MSNBC’s coverage.
Among the specialized websites offering coverage of the event, the National Catholic Reporter is among the most watched by people following the story.
While Nate Silver of The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog predicted odds for last fall’s presidential election, he’s making no such call this time. The blog did publish a list from Oddschecker.com that was a compilation of various betting odds on who will be the next pope.
The top choice, with an average chance of 23 percent, was Angelo Scola of Italy. Oddsmakers gave him a narrow advantage over Peter Turkson of Ghana.
Asked what media outlet he’ll follow most closely, James Martin, a Jesuit priest and commentator, said that “the person matters much more than the site.”
He has a handful of experts whose reportage on the conclave he closely follows: John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter; Thomas Reese, author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church;” Robert Mickens, a writer for the Catholic news weekly The Tablet; John Thavis, whose book “Vatican Diaries” came out last month; and Sandro Magister, a television producer and blogger.
Allen warned readers in the National Catholic Reporter about the chance for initial confusion since smoke coming out of the Sistine Chapel often seems gray at first. That was a big complaint among TV anchors at the last conclave.
“Generally, it takes a few minutes to sort out what’s actually happened,” Allen wrote.
NBC News will let people judge for themselves online. It is setting up a “smoke cam” of live streaming video of the Sistine Chapel chimney.
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