The White-Smoke Watch Begins

Cardinals prepare to cast first ballots for new pope
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 12, 2013 4:38 AM CDT
Updated Mar 12, 2013 7:38 AM CDT
It's Voting Time at the Vatican
US Cardinals Donald Wuerl, Timothy Dolan, Francis George and Roger Mahony exit the North American College to go to the Vatican hotel where the cardinals stay during the conclave.   (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

This afternoon, 115 cardinals will file into the frescoed Sistine Chapel singing the "Litany of Saints," a hypnotic Gregorian chant imploring the intercession of saints to help them choose a pope. By 3pm EDT (8pm local time) the first puffs of smoke should make their way out of the chapel's chimney, reports the AP. More important and interesting details as the conclave begins:

  • As has been reported ad nauseam, black smoke means no pope, white smoke means pope. The New York Times today reports on how the colors are achieved—sort of: While there's still an element of mystery to the whole thing, it reports that the historical method of adding wet straw to the unsuccessful ballots failed in 1958 after the straw wouldn't catch fire. The Vatican has since turned to chemicals.
  • In 2005, it shifted to cartridges containing unnamed chemicals (an expert tells the times potassium chlorate is likely involved). The pope-hailing one is labeled "fumo bianco," and is formulated to produce white smoke for 6.5 minutes.

  • Of course, there was a great deal of confusion about the smoke's color in 2005. But a second confirmation follows, in the form of the tolling bells of St. Peter's Basilica, reports CNS. (In 2005, there was a 10-minute delay between the smoke and the bells.)
  • As soon as the chosen pope accepts his election, he'll move into the Room of Tears, just off the Sistine Chapel, where he'll change into a white cassock and, presumably, red leather shoes; seven sizes have been ordered in anticipation.
  • Why the Room of Tears? The name is a nod at the weight of the job thrust upon the new pontiff.
  • Speaking of names: First we'll learn the name of the cardinal that has the job, then we'll learn his chosen name. Don't expect it to be Peter II: As the Economist reports, no pope has been so "immodest" as to see himself as the followup to Saint Peter. It considers "John" a good choice, as the "last holder of that name, who reigned from 1958 to 1963, is held in high esteem by liberals and moderate conservatives alike."
  • What do bettors think? They see "Leo" as the frontrunner, per a chart published by the Economist.
Click here for more on the pope-choosing process. (More papal conclave stories.)

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