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about the SMOKE SIGNALS
After the ballots are counted, they are tied together with needle and thread. They are then placed in an iron stove, whose narrow chimney will channel the smoke up into the outside world, where the faithful will watch in St. Peter’s Square to see if the smoke is black — no pope yet — or white — a pope has been chosen.
Confusion has reigned at times. In 1958, the damp straw that cardinals had tossed into their burning ballots apparently didn’t catch fire, and the smoke was white instead of black. After John Paul’s death in 2005, the Vatican used special chemicals in an effort to make the color clear — with only limited success. If in doubt, don’t just look. Listen. The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica will be set ringing when a new pope has been chosen.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE
In centuries past, conclaves dragged on for weeks and months, sometimes years. In a 13th century conclave, which stretched for weeks, a leading candidate died. In these quick-paced times, it is unlikely that the conclave will go on more than a few days. Except for the first day, when only one round of balloting takes place, cardinals will vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon until a pope is chosen. The longest conclave of the last century went on for 14 rounds over five days, and yielded Pius XI — in 1922.
This century’s only conclave — which brought in Benedict as pope — went four rounds over two days before the Latin announcement rang out across St. Peter’s Square from the basilica’s balcony: “Habemus papam” — We have a pope!