Roman Catholic cardinals have started a secretive meeting, known as a papal conclave, to choose a successor for Benedict XVI, who resigned last month owing to health issues.
A total of 115 cardinals will attend a closed-door meeting and will remain in isolation from the outside world until they successfully elect a new pope.
Cardinals have to follow ancient rituals and swear with Solomon’s Oath in order to conceal the deliberations of the conclave with instant excommunication.
Many other Vatican employees work on the conclave comprising of drivers, cooks and security guards. These also swear the oath to not disclose what they might see or hear.
These procedures are applied in order to prevent any leakage of possible information.
The prayers will begin with a special mass called “For the Election of the Roman Pontiff” in St Peter’s Basilica starting at 9 am GMT.
At 3 pm Cardinals will chant in procession to invoke the Holy Spirit to bless their selection.
The first round of voting will be held today. There will be burnt ballots which emit smoke, if the smoke is black that means no papal election has taken place.
— Sr CatherineWybourne (@Digitalnun) February 26, 2013
Ballots on subsequent days will be burnt at around 11 am after two rounds of voting in the morning and at around 6 pm after two rounds in the afternoon.
The smoke appears white if there is a new pope. The election is expected to last no more than few days.
Three cardinals have emerged as favourites, Angelo Scola from Italy, Odilo Scherer from Brazil and Marc Ouellet from Canada.
“The Church is like a boat, all the faithful are sailing in it together but we’re without a helmsman at the moment,” said sister Celestina, 62, a nun from Croatia, kneeling in a church near the Vatican.
The tradition of holding secret conclaves goes back to the 13 century when a crowd of angry townspeople locked cardinals into the papal palace in Viterbo near Rome because they were taking too long to make their decision. The longest conclave was in 1922 lasted five days.
Actions of The Pope have far reaching consequences for the world. May the new Pope be kind, modern & prepared to live in the 21st century.
— Ron Pope (@RonPopeMusic) March 12, 2013
The 85th pope, Benedict, resigned on February 11, announcing that his health is no longer enabling him to continue the papal position.
Benedict XVI is the second pope who has resigned by choice in the Church’s 2,000-year history.
Vatican experts have said Benedict’s decision could leave precedent for future popes to also step down if their health fails.
Main image credit: NormanB