While the emeritus pope enjoys his retirement in Castel Gandolfo, final touches to the preparations near completion at the Vatican on Monday, where 115 cardinals from around the world will soon don their robes to begin the process of selecting the next pope.
The Sistine Chapel, where the cardinals will gather for the conclave on Tuesday and every day thereafter until a new head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics is elected, has been closed to the public while Vatican staff busily prepare the ornately decorated vestry for the special deliberations.
Long red curtains have been hung from the central balcony at St Peter's Basilica, where the new pope will be announced and appear for the first time once he has been elected.
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Workmen were spotted on the weekend when they were scaling the roof of the chapel to install a chimney, and two stoves were also placed inside the chapel. One stove will be used in the secret papal election to burn the cardinals' ballots after they are cast, and the other will release the black or white smoke that tells the world that a vote has been taken and the precise moment there is a new pope.
The process will begin when the cardinals cast their first vote on Tuesday afternoon, with subsequent votes taken until one of the contenders gains a two-thirds majority. Of the 115 cardinals, 11 are American, making them the second biggest grouping by nationality after the Italians, who account for 28 of the 115 electors. This could influence which way the vote goes, as the current favourite for the next pontiff is American Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, followed by Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil and Angelo Scola from Italy.
Once the conclave commences, and until the smoke is released from the chimney, the cardinals will reside in ‘Casa Santa Marta’, the modern residence built within the city's walls especially for key occasions such as this. Comprising 106 suites, 22 single rooms and one apartment , the basic yet comfortable hotel offers simply-furnished living spaces that contain a sitting room with a desk, three chairs, a wall cabinet and large closet, a bedroom with dresser, night table and clothes stand, and a private bathroom.
Sequestered within Vatican City and having taken an oath of secrecy, the cardinals will not be permitted to enjoy basic luxuries such as cable TV, telephones and internet for the duration of the conclave period. Even the American cardinals, who, since their arrival in Rome have impressed with their efforts at transparency through daily press briefings, will be completely isolated from the rest of the world.
The longest conclave held since the turn of the 20th century lasted five days.