Vatican City: Cardinals celebrated a final Mass on Tuesday before sequestering themselves in the Sistine Chapel for the conclave to elect the next pope, seeking to overcome their divisions and rally behind a single man who can lead the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic Church and tend to its many problems.

Cardinals ready to elect new pope

As a Gregorian chant filled St Peter's Basilica, the 115 cardinals who will participate in the conclave filed in wearing bright red vestments, many looking grim as if the burden of the imminent vote was weighing on them. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, presided. All of the cardinals were concelebrating with him in a show of unity among a divided group of men from around the globe who have for the past week heard about the various problems of the church and tried to decide who best among them can fix them.


In the afternoon, the 115 cardinal electors will file into the frescoed Sistine Chapel singing the Litany of Saints, a hypnotic chant imploring the intercession of saints to help them choose a pope. They will hear a meditation by an elderly Maltese cardinal, take an oath of secrecy, then in all probability cast their first ballots.
    
Assuming they vote, the first puffs of smoke should emerge from the chapel chimney by 8 pm (12:30 midnight IST)), black for no pope, white if a pope has been chosen. In an opening prayer today, Sodano asked that God "grant in your boundless fatherly love a pastor for your church who will please you by his holiness and to us show watchful care."

The conclave is taking place amid more upheaval and uncertainty than the church has seen in decades: There's no front-runner, no indication how long voting will last and no sense that a single man has what it takes to be pope.

Cardinals tweet goodbyes before conclave lockdown

Cardinals entering the Vatican on Tuesday ahead of the conclave took to Twitter to say goodbye to their online flock before they are cut off from the outside world.

"Last tweet before conclave: May Our Father hear and answer with love and mercy all prayers and sacrifices offered for fruitful outcome. God bless!" South African cardinal Wilfrid Napier told his thousands of followers.
Cardinals will be completely isolated inside the Vatican walls for the duration of the conclave, which could last up to a few days. Jamming devices in the Sistine Chapel block all communications and the Vatican has said anyone caught tweeting will be excommunicated.
    
Before moving to the Vatican residence where the 115 cardinal electors will eat and sleep during the conclave, US cardinal Roger Mahony wrote: "Last tweet before moving to Casa Santa Martha, and mass to elect a pope. "First conclave meeting late Tuesday afternoon. Prayers needed," he said.
    
Pierre Durieux, spokesman for France's Philippe Barbarin, tweeted to say that the three French cardinals had entered the Vatican and now: "A big silence". Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed concern on her account saying, "In this electronic age, I worry some cardinals may go into iPad and Twitter withdrawal."

(Agencies)

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