Chimney raised on Sistine Chapel as conclave nears

Sat Mar 9, 2013 12:22pm EST
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By Crispian Balmer

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Vatican workers hoisted a chimney onto the roof of the Sistine Chapel on Saturday in readiness for the conclave of Roman Catholic cardinals that will elect a successor to Pope Benedict.

The conclave begins on Tuesday, with the sequestered cardinals using the chimney to tell the outside world whether or not they have chosen a new leader - black smoke signifying no decision and white smoke announcing a new pontiff.

The rust-colored pipe was attached above the terracotta tiles of the roof of the frescoed chapel clearly visible from the nearby St. Peter's Square, where traditionally thousands of believers gather to see how the secret balloting is progressing.

Although no clear favorites have emerged to take the helm of the troubled 1.2-billion-member Church, the conclave is expected to be wrapped up within just a few days.

No conclave has lasted than more than five days in the past century, with many finishing within two or three days. Pope Benedict was elected within barely 24 hours in 2005 after just four rounds of voting.

Benedict triggered the election last month with his shock decision to abdicate because of his increasingly frail health - the first pontiff to step down in six centuries.

He leaves his successor a sea of troubles - including seemingly never-ending sex abuse scandals, rivalry and strife inside the Vatican bureaucracy, a shortage of priests and a rise of secularism in its European strongholds.

Inside the chapel, workmen were carrying out the final preparations to make the room, one of the most famous in the world, ready for the conclave.   Continued...

Members of the fire and rescue service set a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican March 9, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi