The wait is almost over. The final preparations to the Sistine Chapel are underway in anticipation of the 115 members of the College of Cardinals who will convene to elect the new Pope.
This particular election is referred to as "conclave" , and is set to be begin tomorrow afternoon, March 12th. This particular conclave is being quoted as "difficult', partially due to the unorthodox circumstances in which the Cardinals now find themselves.
According to tradition, Catholics and Pilgrims from all over the world will wait patiently in St Peter's Square watching the chimney that sprouts from the Sistine Chapel for smoke, white or black, at 12pm and again at 7pm. On Tuesday there will be only one vote, and from Wednesday until the end of conclave there will be two voting periods, one in the morning (10:30-11) and a second in the afternoon (17:30-18).
With only hours before the beginning of conclave, there is undoubtedly an air of uncertainty among Cardinals and worshipers, mostly due to the circumstances surrounding the reason the Church must go to conclave at this time. Even vatican experts are having difficulty giving a prognosis of the possible outcomes.
The Cardinals are reuniting to elect a new Pope after the resignation of Pope Benedict, an act that has not happened in 600 years. The Church and Vatican are facing not only this very delicate and rare situation, but its position has further been shaken by the numerous scandals the Church has faced over the last few years all over the world.
Conclave this time around will be very different than that of 2005: At the time, Ratzinger was already singled out as one of the favorites to succeed in Conclave, and had already 50 solid votes before the doors were closed. Today, none of the "favorite" Cardinals enter Conclave with such a large majority, and there are at least a dozen or so favorites being named in the press.
Another difference being noticed with this conclave: in addition to the naming of individual "favorites", there's a new group dynamic that has identified groups of cardinals that are likely to represent a fundamental election advantage.
One such group are the American Cardinals, of whom three have been named as "favorites": Donald William Wuerl, Timothy Michael Dolan and Sean Patrick O’Malley.
Another such group that will undoubtedly carry weight in conclave is that of the Roman Curia, which is the authority of the administration of the Holy Seat, the government of the Church. From this group, the Cardinal Angelo Scola is a favorite, as are Cardinali Angelo Bagnasco and Gianfranco Ravasi.
Another important factor to remember is that there hasn't been an Italian Pope in 35 years, the last being John Paul I.
Among the more than 60 European Cardinals, the Austrian Christoph Schönborn and Hungarian Péter Erdö are also named among the "favorites" that could be successful in Conclave.
At this point, the only thing left to do is wait with Christians all over the world, for the smoke to rise above Saint Peter's Basilica until the new Catholic leader is revealed...