Precinct 333

Monday, April 18, 2005

Black Smoke -- No Pope

To no one's particular surprise, the Conclave has not elected a new pope. Black smoke was seen in Rome following the first vote taken by the cardinals. By tradition, the first vote is one in which cardinals cast votes for friends, esteemed colleagues, or a favorite son candidate from their own country or region. In 1978, for example, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla cast his first ballot votes for his beloved mentor, Polish Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, in both 1978 conclaves. Serious voting will begin tomorrow.

Black smoke streamed from the Sistine Chapel's chimney today to signal that cardinals failed to select a new pope in their first round of voting, held just hours after they began their historic task: finding a leader capable of building on John Paul II's spiritual energy while keeping modern rifts from tearing deeper into the church.

"It seems white. ... No, no, it's black!" reported Vatican Radio as the first pale wisps slipped out from the narrow pipe and then quickly darkened.

As millions around the world watched on television, at least 40,000 people waited in St. Peter's Square with all eyes on the chimney, where smoke from the burned ballots would give the first word of the conclave: white meaning a new pontiff, black showing that the secret gathering will continue Tuesday.

In the last moments of twilight, the pilgrims began to point and gasp. "What is it? White? Black?" hundreds cried out. In a few seconds — at about 8:05 p.m. — it was clear the 115 cardinals from six continents could not find the two-thirds majority needed to elect the new leader for the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics. Only one vote was scheduled for today.

Few expected a quick decision. The cardinals have a staggering range of issues to juggle. In the West, they must deal with the fallout from priest sex-abuse scandals and a chronic shortage of priests and nuns. Elsewhere, the church is facing calls for sharper activism against poverty and an easing of its ban on condoms to help combat AIDS.

The next pontiff also must maintain the global ministry of John Paul, who took 104 international trips in his 26-year papacy and is already being hailed as a saint by many faithful.


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