Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, left, arrives for a meeting at the Vatican, Friday, March 8, 2013. The last cardinal who will participate in the conclave to elect the next pope arrived in Rome on Thursday, meaning a date can now be set for the election. One U.S. cardinal said a decision on the start date is expected soon. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
After a week of meetings, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church announced the conclave to select a new pope will begin Tuesday.
The cardinals will meet first for mass at St. Peter's Basilica then head into the Sistine Chapel for the actual voting process. The magic number will be 77, the number of votes needed to be elected, or two-thirds of the 115 electors.
While they are "in conclave" at Casa Santa Marta there is much secrecy. Telephones and televisions will be disconnected and the location has been swept for eavesdropping devices. The cardinals will "draw lots" to guarantee objectivity and show no one has decided who is next to whom.
The Vatican confirmed Thursday that all 115 cardinals are in Rome, including the last to arrive from Vietnam.
The cardinals hope to have a new pope by Easter, and depending on how quickly things move, a new pope could be inaugurated by March 17 or March 19, on the Feast of St. Joseph. That would put the new pope in place before Palm Sunday.
The conclave could take three or four days, but after a week of discussions, the cardinals are expected to make a decision more quickly. One hundred of the cardinals spoke during pre-conclave meetings, talking about what kind of pope they're looking for.
In the meantime, Vatican workers this week painted the scaffolding inside the Sistine Chapel and installed equipment to jam any attempts to eavesdrop on the secret proceedings. They also darkened the windows of the chapel to protect the secrecy of the proceedings.
In an outward sign of the transition underway, they removed Benedict’s coat of arms from shrubs and flowers of the Vatican gardens.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said this week they realize the “huge responsibility placed on the shoulders of the cardinals” and do not want to rush their decision of who will succeed Benedict XVI.
In a Vatican briefing Thursday, Rev. Thomas Rosica said the cardinals are examining “the character of the next pontiff.” As for silencing the American cardinals who had been giving daily updates, Rev. Lombardi said the cardinals made that decision and was not part of the oath.