The papal conclave that will select the next pope will begin on Tuesday. The procession of cardinals into the Vatican's Sistine Chapel will start at 4:30 pm. By 5:30 pm, the doors of the chapel will be closed, and all communication with the outside world will cease, save for the traditional twice daily streams of smoke that fly up the chapel's chimney indicating the progress the cardinals are making. Black smoke means a new pope has not yet been selected. White smoke means a new pope has been selected.
The 117 members of the College of Cardinals who are under the age of 80, and therefore eligible to vote, will cast successive ballots until a pope has been selected with a two-thirds majority. Though there is no set schedule for ballots, during the three most recent papal conclaves the cardinals cast two or three ballots per day, and a new pope was selected in less than four days from the start of the conclave. John Paul I was elected pope in 1978 on the second day after four ballots. Barely a month later, John Paul II was elected pope on the third day after eight ballots. In 2005, Benedict XVI was elected pope on the second day after four ballots.
Going in to this 2013 papal conclave there is no clear favorite, but several candidates are frequently mentioned. If press reports are predictive of how the cardinals are thinking, this conclave may be poised to select the first non-European as pope in over 1,000 years. Last month, for instance, Religion and Politics reported that "[o]n his Sirius XM radio show last week, [New York's] Cardinal Timothy Dolan mused that it was 'highly possible' there might be a pope from the Americas or Asia or Africa." The last non-European pope was Syria's Gregory III, who served in the eighth century.
Dolan himself is considered one of North America's strongest candidates, along with Canada's Mark Oullet. But the continents experiencing greatest growth within the world's 1.2 billion Catholic population are South America and Africa, and several candidates from those parts of the world are considered strong possibilities.
Ghana's Peter Turkson is Africa's most frequently mentioned candidate. Several South American and Central American cardinals are under consideration, but none stands out as that region's consensus candidate. However, with such a large percentage of the world's Catholics (42%), and apparent support from several Italian cardinals, a consensus candidate from Latin America may emerge.
Finally, there are several Asian candidates also under consideration, including Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines.
For those who like the candidate elimination aspect of the papal conclave, the Religious News Service offers this slightly irreverent version of "The Sweet Sistine."
If the 2013 papal conclave follows the pattern of the three most recent papal conclaves, Roman Catholics are likely to have a new pope from among these candidates within a week.