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17/12/2017
BBC Radio 5 live

    Rome hosts one of the world's most theatrical electoral processes

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    All eyes are on a simple rustic looking chimney atop a tiled roof in Vatican City on the second day of the conclave to elect the next Pope.

    St Peter's Square filled steadily with the faithful and the curious yesterday for the start of one of the most theatrical electoral processes in the world.

    First there was the public mass at the famous Basilica, then the liturgical beauty of the procession of cardinals from St Paul's Chapel into the Sistine Chapel.

    Once each elector had sworn his oath of secrecy, anyone else inside was ordered to leave with the Latin words 'Extra Omnes'. 

    The large wooden doors of the chapel closed and the next time the group inside will be seen will be to present to the world the latest successor to St Peter.

    Just a couple of hours later came the first smoke signal. Black and plentiful. No decision yet but it's clear the technicians have been working on their chemicals after several confusing moments in the recent past.

    The smoke comes several times a day if the conclave continues undecided - black after every second ballot. White smoke, indicating a choice has been made, comes when it comes.

    The crowds ebb and flow between signals and the usual Vatican tour groups come and go. The rain doesn't seem to deter them.

    A city unmoved

    The global reach of Catholicism means almost every nation in the world is represented in the square. Some carry banners with the name of their cardinals.

    Others wave national flags as if to say "Choose us! Choose us!" but there are pilgrims here too who've come to pray for the cardinals during the conclave.  The spiritual element of this event is very real for many here.

    The street traders are making a killing. They stalk the streets around the main event, offering umbrellas and waterproof ponchos on the hoof. People seem to welcome it as the rain pours down.

    When the crowd in St Peter's Square open their brollies as one it's a rather beautiful sight - like time-lapse photography allowing you to see flowers bloom in an instant. Necks crane from time to time towards the chimney.

    In a city well used to the pull of The Vatican for visitors, Romans going about their daily business seem decidedly unmoved by it all in much the same way any of us ignore our own town's tourist attractions.

    The balcony above the huge doors of the Basilica from which the new Pope will greet the world as the Bishop of Rome has been prepared for that moment.

    The red of the drapes pulls the eye in and acts as a focal point for people's imaginations.

    We don't know when but we do know that, in time, the French cardinal Jean Louis Tauran will announce from there  "Habemus Papam" - "We have a Pope". 

    Unless, that is, the cardinals choose him.

    Shelagh Fogarty is in Rome covering the papal conclave of 115 cardinals to elect a Pope. Listen each day from 12pm.

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