Black Smoke Signals No Pope on First Day of Conclave

The first day of the conclave produced black smoke
The first day of the conclave produced black smoke

The cardinals of the Catholic Church held their first ballot on Tuesday to elect a pope from among them, with black smoke signaling no winner on the first day of their conclave inside the Sistine Chapel.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, boarded a bus to St. Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday.

Night had fallen by the time the smoke rose, but people who had flocked to St. Peter’s Square on this cold, rainy evening could watch the spotlighted chimney on giant screens set up in St. Peter’s Square. Some shrieked in excitement as the thick smoke began billowing out.

The outcome was expected, since all 115 of the cardinals are theoretically candidates, and the winner must receive two-thirds, or 77 of the votes. In past modern conclaves, the first ballot essentially served as a primary, when a number of cardinals emerged as leading vote gets. Subsequent rounds made clear where the votes were flowing. The smoke will be white when a pope is elected.

The cardinals, who are staying in seclusion in the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence, will return to the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday morning. The schedule calls for two rounds of voting in the morning and two in the evening, as needed.

The conclave began 12 days after Benedict XVI became the first pope in modern times to renounce the throne of Peter. It was a period fraught with tense discussions about what kind of pope was needed for a church threatened by secularism, the scandal of clerical sex abuse and a Vatican bureaucracy stippled with corruption.

The script was clear for the cardinals, and Vatican television showed the conclave’s opening pageantry. They glided two by two from the Pauline Chapel in the Apostolic Palace, through the Sala Reggia and into the Sistine Chapel, approached the altar and bowed before it.

They took their places behind tables placed along the length of the chapel’s walls, with green ritual books, red folders and folded placards with their names on them. They placed their birettas — square, peaked crimson hats — in front of them.

The cardinals, led by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, an Italian and the senior cardinal present, collectively swore, in Latin, to maintain secrecy and obedience to the constitution on papal transition. They also made an oath that if elected they would faithfully carry out the duties of a pope and defend the Holy See. Each then individually swore adherence with a hand on the gospel, in a Latin accented by their native languages — German, American, Arabic, Spanish, and so on.

Then the papal master of ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, pronounced the words “extra omnes”: everyone out. Several dozen attendants, clergymen and at least three members of the Vatican press office left. Monsignor Marini was then shown closing the two carved wooden doors, with a loud click. The procession and oaths took about an hour.

After listening to a meditation pronounced by a clergyman and bidding farewell to him and Father Marini, the princes of the church got down to business. Following tradition, they wrote the name of their candidate on rectangular pieces of paper and tipped them into a flying-saucer-shaped urn, to be counted by hand and recorded by three cardinals chosen by lot.

The ballots and notes are burned in a special oven set up in the Sistine Chapel, with chemicals added to produce the black or white smoke..

In the morning, the cardinals celebrated a Mass led by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who gave the last major public statement by a Vatican prelate before the church’s next supreme pontiff emerges.

“St. Paul teaches that each of us must work to build up the unity of the church,” the cardinal said in his homily. “All of us are therefore called to cooperate with the pastors, in particular with the successor of Peter, to obtain that unity of the holy church.”

He also spoke of the church’s charitable and evangelizing mission and prayed for the future pope to continue to promote peace and justice around the world. The cardinal has long been one of the most influential figures in the Vatican and the ultimate insider, serving both John Paul II and Benedict as secretary of state. He mentioned both several times.

He referred to the “luminous pontificate” of the “beloved and venerated Pontiff Benedict XVI, to whom in this moment we renew our profound gratitude,” drawing long applause from the worshipers. A number of the cardinals, but not all, clapped modestly. Benedict, now bearing the title pope emeritus, was at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, a nearby hill town.


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