And so it begins…
Shortly after 5.30pm in Rome, the papal master of ceremonies, Guido Marini, drew shut the doors of the Sistine Chapel, locking inside the “princes of the church” who are to elect a pope great enough to lead his church out of the maze of scandal and controversy into which it stumbled during the strife-torn reign of former Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned last month.
After listening to a homily by one of their number, the Maltese Augustinian, Prosper Grech, the cardinals held at least one ballot. But black smoke issuing from the chimney above the chapel two hours later showed that none of the cardinals had obtained the necessary two-thirds majority.
The 115 men taking part in the ballot started on Tuesday by filing into the chapel in two long columns as they chanted Ora pro nobis (Pray for us) in response to the names of the litany of saints and prophets. Dressed mostly in vivid scarlet, the cardinals advanced down the chapel towards Michelangelo’s intimidating depiction of the Last Judgement where they bowed their heads before the altar and took their places in the stalls on either side.The decision the cardinals will have to make in their assembly, or conclave, is among the most difficult in recent times. Benedict’s abdication has robbed them of the chance that most of their predecessors had to swap opinions on a likely successor as the pope of the day advanced in age and infirmity.
You can watch the procession here: