The process by which the next pope will be elected, known as the conclave, began Tuesday morning at about 11:30. Here are some key points you should know about:
The cardinals, 115 of them, gather inside the Sistine Chapel (above) at the Vatican and conduct the ceremony completely in private. The word “conclave” means “secret meeting,” after all.
The highly democratic process, which has remained pretty much the same for 800 years, is designed to build consensus. Hence a simple majority of ballots is not enough; a candidate must receive a supermajority of at least two-thirds of the votes. That means that 77 of the 115 cardinals must agree on their next leader.
Votes are held twice a day, once in the morning and once in late afternoon, until there is a winner.
Each time a vote is held and then counted, the result is announced to the world via a smoke signal: black smoke means no candidate received the necessary two-thirds majority support, and white smoke means there is a new pope.
Not all cardinals can vote; only those under the age of 80 can.
If the process takes more than three days, the cardinals will take a day off from voting and dedicate it to prayer and discussion.
Once a pope is selected and white smoke rises from the chimney, a bell at the St. Peter’s Basilica will ring and within the hour, the new pope will greet the world from the balcony after the announcement “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam!” which means “I announce to you with great joy we have a pope.”
For a look at the top candidates to become the next pope, click here.
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