Conclave begins

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115 cardinals from across the world have entered the Vatican to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II. A public mass was held this morning before the cardinal electors were sealed inside the Vatican.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is among them and has called on people “to pray that the cardinals have the help of the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and discernment”.

The procedure that the electors will follow was revised by the Vatican in February 1996. The norms regulating the election of a successor have always been the remit of the Pope partly because of the need to take into account the “changing needs of the historical moment” and partly because the office of the Pope was divinely created.

Voting begins today, when one ballot is held in the afternoon if possible. If the first ballot does not produce a result, there are two ballots each morning and each afternoon until a result is declared.

The traditional white smoke that signals the election will be supplemented by the ringing of the bells of St Peter’s Basilica to avoid any confusion. The new Pope will then be announced on the balcony a short time later and he will come out to greet the crowds.

“Whoever comes out on that balcony will be Peter for the bishops, for the Church and for the world,” Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said following a lunch at the Venerable English College attended by seminarians and invited guests before he left for Conclave.

Jesus Christ must remain the centre of the Church – “our leader and our strength”, the Cardinal said, adding: “We need not be afraid, even when we are sorely afflicted, because Christ will always be with his Church”.