White smoke over Vatican signals new pope elected
Posted Wednesday, March 13 2013 at 21:25
White smoke billowed from a Sistine Chapel chimney on Wednesday to show that a new pope has been elected to replace the frail Benedict XVI as leader of the world's 1.2 billon Catholics.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims in St Peter's Square cheered and the bells of St Peter's Basilica rang out after the 115 cardinals meeting in a Vatican conclave signalled their momentous decision.
The 266th pope in the Catholic Church's 2,000-year history -- his identity is still a secret -- was due to emerge from the balcony of the basilica.
The crowd chanted "Habemus Papam!" ("We Have a Pope!") as they waited, waving flags from around the world.
Cardinals have been locked up behind the Vatican walls and cut off from the outside world since Tuesday, meeting in a sublime Renaissance chapel swept for recording devices and installed with scramblers to prevent any communication.
The smoke from the chimney was produced by burning the ballots and setting off smoke flares in two stoves specially installed in a corner of the chapel.
The decision came after five votes -- longer than for Benedict's succession to late pope John Paul II in 2005 which was decided in just four votes.
The historic election after Benedict's abrupt resignation last month was being followed around the world on live television as as well as through social media and smartphone apps -- this is the first ever tweeted conclave.
The Vatican has said the cardinal nominated to be the next pope will retire to a "Room of Tears" next to the Sistine Chapel to don his papal vestments and then pray in the Pauline Chapel before speaking on St Peter's Square.
Brazil's Odilo Scherer, Canada's Marc Ouellet and Italy's Angelo Scola -- all conservatives similar to Benedict in outlook but different in style -- were the three favourites but papal elections are notoriously difficult to predict.
Other possible candidates include Peter Turkson from Ghana, Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines and Timothy Dolan from the United States.
The odds have been stacked against cardinals from Africa and Asia -- two-thirds of the voter cardinals were from North America and Europe.
All the "Princes of the Church" were appointed by Benedict or his predecessor and ideological soulmate John Paul II.
But the names of cardinals from Latin America, where the largest number of the world's Catholics actually live, have also been in the rumour mill.