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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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  • Comment number 3. Posted by carrie

    on 15 Mar 2013 13:29

    The BBC had so many reporters and correspondents there for this news item - of course we knew Shelagh would go because she seems a devout person. But this was overkill.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by David Hare

    on 13 Mar 2013 23:07

    Yet again you are changing from a brilliant BBC news & sports station into a Vatican propaganda machine, with wall-to-wall coverage of a story that most listeners will find at best irrelevant and at worst, disturbing. Only 2% of the population still attend RC mass on Sunday, so if you have 1m listeners, that's 20k max who are interested in this story. That leaves 980,000 who mostly are not and that includes tens of thousands of ex-Catholics, thousands of whom have been abused by priests whose sins were then hidden by the same Vatican that has just appointed Pope Francis. So please could you stop referring in every bulletin to the 1.2billion Catholics worldwide - as if that legitimises your almost non-stop coverage?

    If you described to a Martian a religion where people worship the image of a man on a cross bleeding to death, are terrified of damnation for breaking the rules and where vulnerable children have been systematically abused, they would call it a sinister Cult. I have heard it said that the only difference between what most people define as a cult and the RC Church is that somehow the Church gains respectability from being centuries old.

    Many listeners will feel the RC Church is discredited, dysfunctional and dishonest. Not to mention sexist, homophobic and out of touch with modern life. And it's not just the quantity of the coverage (45 minutes waiting for a puff of smoke...) Sheila Fogarty, I normally love your stuff, but sorry it sounded like you were positively swooning in St. Peter's Square, gushing about the beauty of the event, speaking in hushed tones about how exciting it all is (to you, maybe...) and interviewing commentators who claim this chap is God's representative on Earth!!! This is all so last-century. Most people don't even believe in God any more, let alone in an infallible representative on Earth.

    Please can you get back to what you do best - independent journalism about stories that your listeners care about?

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by mistered5

    on 13 Mar 2013 14:26

    Obviously I realise that this is a big story as there are a billion Catholics in the world.

    However, the level of speculation and guesswork as to what is happening is ridiculous for what is meant to be a factual news station.
    Last night Tony Livesey had an expert who said this was the most secretive process in the world and Cardinals were threatened with ex-communication if they spoke about it. Subsequently he was asked to explain what was happening inside the conclave. He said he couldn't say as it was secret!

    Still, it made better radio than the ridiculous 'Bump Club'.

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