Cardinals head for Rome to cast votes

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Scores of cardinals among the 117 "Princes of the Church" eligible to elect a pope are already on their way to Rome, Vatican sources have said.

Scores of cardinals among the 117 "Princes of the Church" eligible to elect a pope are already on their way to Rome, Vatican sources have said.

Officially, however, they only set off for the Conclave once summoned after the formal announcement of the death by the Camerlengo or Chamberlain, the Spanish-born Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo.

The Camerlengo verifies the death by standing over the Pope, and calling out his baptismal name three times. On receiving no reply, the death is announced.

The Sacred College of Cardinals meets 15 to 20 days later. After a Mass in St Peter's basilica, they enter the annexe of the Sistine Chapel. Beneath Michelangelo's 'Last Judgement' they are locked in (hence ' con-clave' - with a key), and at night are confined to a hostelry within Vatican City.

The cardinals cast secret, written ballots, counted by the Camerlengo. A candidate needs two thirds of the vote if chosen within 13 days but thereafter can be elected by a simple majority.

After each voting session, the ballots are burnt. If the vote fails to produce a pope, a chemical is added to the paper to make black smoke, the emergence of which from the Apostolic Palace is a sign there is no new leader of the Church.

When a decision is reached, the white smoke from the burning of the ballot papers billows out. The dean of cardinals steps on to a balcony above St Peter's Square and announces " Habemus papam!" (We have a pope!)


Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi (Italy)

The favourite. As Milan's archbishop, he runs the largest archdiocese in the world, and is a traditionalist on doctrine. His promotion by the Pope three years ago was "tantamount to an investiture" as the likely successor, according to La Repubblica.

Cardinal Francis Arinze (Nigeria)

Head of the influential Congregation for Divine Worship, he would be the first modern black pope and would be able to improve the Church's often-delicate relations with Islam. He helped to arrange the Pope's first visit to a mosque.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Mardiaga (Honduras)

Frequently mentioned due to his mix of connections in the Vatican and support for the underprivileged. He is a media-friendly member of the Salesian Order, who argues it is time the Third World was represented on St Peter's Throne.

Cardinal Angela Scola (Italy)

The 63-year-old Patriarch of Venice is close to the Communion and Liberation movement. He is seen as a rising star within the Church. His nomination to be the "relator" at an Italian bishops' conference was seen as a sign of his having papal favour.