The emergence of white smoke from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican has indicated to the world that cardinals have elected a new leader for 1.2 billion Catholic Christians.
Elated crowds in St. Peter's Square screamed as the white smoke emerged, under a sea of umbrellas on a cold and sometimes rainy evening. Yet the world is waiting anxiously to know who has been elected head of the largest religious denomination in the world. Besides, everyone is waiting.
The newly elected pope will be fitted for his white cassock, and the other cardinals in the conclave will then each individually swear obedience to him.
Before he appears on a balcony overlooking the square, the new pope will stop to pray in the Pauline Chapel.
Ahead of the appearance on the balcony, French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the protodeacon, will announce "Habemus Papam," Latin for "We have a pope!"
The new pope was selected after four ballots failed to produce a winner during a conclave that began Tuesday.
The drama unfolded against the backdrop of the turmoil unleashed by Benedict's surprise resignation and the exposure of deep divisions among cardinals who grappled with whether they needed a manager to clean up the Vatican's dysfunctional bureaucracy or a pastor who can inspire Catholics at a time of waning faith and growing secularism.
The cardinals, chosen by either Benedict XVI or John Paul II, swore an oath of secrecy ahead of the conclave, and anyone who communicates details about the process risks excommunication.
For more than a week before the voting, the cardinals met privately to try to figure out who among them had the stuff to be pope and what his priorities should be. But they ended the debate with questions still unanswered, and many cardinals predicted a drawn-out election that would further expose the church's divisions.
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