13 March 2013 Last updated at 05:52

As it happened: First day of papal conclave

Key Points

  • Cardinals in Rome have begun the conclave which will decide who will be the next leader of the world's 1.2bn Roman Catholics
  • The 115 electors have taken an oath of secrecy inside the Sistine Chapel
  • The first smoke from the chapel, signifying a ballot has been held, came out black - meaning no decision has been reached
  • There will be four votes per day until the new Pope is chosen
  • The election was prompted by the surprise abdication of Benedict XVI
  • All times GMT

    Welcome to the BBC's live coverage of the conclave of cardinals gathering to elect a new pope. The cardinal electors are soon due to proceed into the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican to begin the process of choosing a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.


    The cardinals will be repeating a centuries-old process to choose the new pontiff, much of it shrouded it in secrecy - watch this interactive BBC News guide to the conclave to learn more about the process, the likely contenders for the post and where the electors hail from.


    The procession of cardinals, singing and praying, from the Vatican's Pauline Chapel into the Sistine Chapel has now begun.

    The BBC's Mike Hirst

    tweets: "Vatican press centre packed as #Conclave watchers prepare for Sistine lockdown:"

    Reporters in the Vatican's press centre
    Rob Casapulla

    tweets: The Procession of Cardinals singing the Litany of Saints and Veni Creator Spiritus is truly beautiful #conclave #pope


    At the beginning of the procession, a cardinal said in Latin: "The entire Church, united with us in prayer, asks for the grace of the Holy Spirit at this moment so that we elect a worthy shepherd for the entire flock of Christ."


    The "litany of saints", as mentioned below, is a list of more than 150 saints which the cardinals recited by name to help in making their choice.

    Bashkim Krasniqi, London,

    emails: "I think it's time that the Vatican elected the first black Pope. Maybe he will make me go back to the faith I once loved and respected."


    The cardinals are assembled beneath the frescoes by Michelangelo depicting scenes of the Creation and The Last Judgment.


    Catholic faithful from around the world have been braving the rain in St Peter's Square, such as this group from the US:

    Faithfuls from USA wave a flag as they arrive at St Peter"s square on the first day of the conclave
    Henry Osueke, Nigeria,

    texts: "I dreamt last night the new Pope would be a Brazilian Cardinal."


    Swiss guards, in their yellow and blue uniforms, are standing guard outside the chapel.


    The most senior cardinal-elector is Giovanni Battista Re. He will be responsible for administering the oath of secrecy and presiding over the conclave.


    The cardinals have now begun swearing the oath of secrecy for the duration of the conclave.


    Placing their hands on the Gospel, they are promising on pain of ex-communication not to reveal any details of the conclave.

    Pancha Chandra, Brussels, Belgium

    emails: "The Papacy should move with the times. Youth, dynamism should take precedence for a change."


    The oath that the cardinals are taking in Latin reads: "I call as my witness, Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who, before God, I think should be elected."

    Large screen showing cardinals in the Sistine Chapel

    The scenes inside the Vatican are being broadcast into St Peter's Square on large screens.

    Sandeep Nayar, Chennai, India,

    emails: "I think the College of Cardinals should elect a non-European Pope. St Peter's Basilica needs a revolutionary change."


    Once the oath has been taken the cardinals eat, vote and sleep within closed-off areas until a new pope has been chosen.


    The nuns who will cook for the cardinals during the conclave at their Casa Santa Marta residence "are already preparing meals of soup, spaghetti, small meat kebabs and boiled vegetables", the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported, according to AFP agency. "Perhaps this food, similar to that served in hospitals, will help to speed up the choice of a successor," it concluded.

    Gloria Awunyo-Akaba, Accra, Ghana,

    emails: "I want to see Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson emerge as favourite and win. He has the vision, humility, intelligence and foresight to do a great job."


    This Vatican mobile post office has been doing a roaring trade in the past two weeks selling rare "sede vacante" stamps, marking the period between two popes. The insignia on the stamps shows two keys beneath an umbrella. They would doubtless do good business if they just sold umbrellas on a day like today, reports the BBC's Michael Hirst.

    Vatican mobile post office
    Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel

    The cardinals have now completed swearing the oath.


    The oath-taking has finished and the Latin command "extra omnes" ("everyone out") has been given. It means all those not involved in the election must leave and the doors be closed.


    All the Vatican officials and aides, a uniformed Swiss Guard and other priests are now leaving the chapel.

    1634: Breaking News

    The doors of the Sistine Chapel have now been shut.


    And now beings the secret part of the process. BBC News has compiled a list of 10 things about the conclave to shed some light on it.

    Nyree Miles

    tweets: "That is the most dramatic closing of doors I had ever seen! #conclave"


    The election process can take days. In previous centuries, it has gone on for weeks or months and some cardinals have even died during conclaves.

    Dennis Hartz, New Jersey, US,

    emails: "My choice would be a dynamic leader who is capable and willing of undertaking meaningful internal reform while addressing such issues as the Church's outdated doctrine regarding celibacy and the limited role of women."


    The double doors were shut by the master of liturgical ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini.


    Maltese Cardinal Prosper Grech, who at 87 is too old to participate, has remained inside the chapel to give a meditation on the qualities needed in the next pope and the future of the Church. He and Monsignor Marini will then become the last outsiders to leave.

    Sheila Chaman, New Delhi, India,

    emails: "The Christians of the world need someone they can look up to - one with credibility and impeccable background of spiritual values and powerful and captivating presence."


    Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn has been named as one of the favourites for the papacy, but at least one Catholic from his country doesn't think he's qualified - his mother, according to Associated Press.


    Eleonore Schoenborn, 92, says her son is much too good-natured to deal with "the nastiness at the Vatican. He has enough to do dealing with the intrigues in Vienna." Mrs Schoenborn also told an Austrian newspaper it would be "much too difficult for him. He has control of his diocese, but heading a world Church is something else."

    Stoats Jackson

    tweets: "The Pope vote can take days, weeks, or in one case 2 years. So don't stay up late waiting for the result"


    What is the experience of a conclave for the cardinals taking part? Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, wrote this account for BBC News.


    If you're on Twitter, you can find the latest updates by following @BBCBreaking, as well as subscribing to tweets from the BBC's team in Rome on this Twitter list.

    St Peter's Square

    While the cardinals get down to business inside, the view from above St Peter's Square shows a rainy Vatican City.


    Following Twitter will not be an option for the cardinals. Jamming devices in the Sistine Chapel should block all electronic communication and anyone tweeting would in any case risk being excommunicated.

    Eric Jones, UK,

    texts: "Why is the election of the new Pope done in strict secrecy? This practice only makes the Church look like a 'closed' organisation. If they were 'open' it may help the Church to connect more with people."


    This is the moment the doors were shut on the outside world - watched by the faithful in St Peter's Square sheltering under umbrellas.

    People watch on a video monitor in St. Peter"s Square as Monsignor Guido Marini, master of liturgical ceremonies, closes the double doors to the Sistine Chapel
    Samuel, London, UK,

    emails: "I think Cardinal Angelo Scola should emerge and lead this great religion. He has the great intelligence but most important of all the guidance from God."

    Ma Remi Javinez, Bahrain,

    emails: "I like Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines. With good education and good leadership. I think it's Asia's time. Besides, he represented the largest number of Catholics in Asia."

    Megan, UK,

    emails: "Beautiful ceremonial - does anyone know why there's one cardinal in all red instead of the choir robes worn by everyone else, and one in a black gown?"

    Cardinal Baselois Cleemis Thottunkal arrives for the final congregation before cardinals enter the conclave to vote for a new pope, on March 11

    The cardinal wearing black is Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major Archbishop and Catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, who is the youngest cardinal at the conclave, at the age of 53, according to the Associated Press.

    Ali Idris, Leeds, UK,

    texts: "It is likely that the outcome of this Conclave will be a white-European Pope."


    A clear frontrunner has not emerged for the role of pope, but here's a selection of leading contenders the cardinals may be considering in this first round of voting.


    There has been much speculation on the next pope and the future of the Church in the global press, as in this New York Times editorial: "It may be impossible to guess whether the next pope will come from Europe or Latin America or even Africa, it's almost certain that he will abide and maintain the church's opaqueness, preserve the current requirements of the priesthood, stay the course. And many hopeful, hurting Catholics will be left where they were under Benedict: with a faith whose essence warms them, but whose formal administration leaves them cold."

    The chimney positioned on the Vatican

    There is a live camera positioned to film the Vatican chimney where smoke will emerge at the end of every vote. White smoke will signify that the next pope has been elected. Black smoke will mean the voting will continue, although in previous conclaves it has taken a little while for the colour to become apparent.

    Rev Dr Heather Fraser Fawcett, Canada,

    emails: "My prayers are for true vision in this conclave. May the Holy Spirit give these men cause for deep insight... one half of the Catholic population is not represented by their own gender. May the cardinals and the Catholic Church realise what an antiquated and discriminatory community they are."


    The crowds in St Peter's Square are beginning to swell to catch a glimpse of the smoke expected to appear at the end of the first round of voting, at some point between 18:00 GMT and 19:00 GMT.

    Timothy Byford, Belgrade, Serbia,

    emails: "Taking into account the considerably higher percentage of Roman Catholics in South America than in Europe or any other continent, it is high time that a Pope came from one of the South American countries. The archbishop of Sao Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, would seem to be the obvious candidate."

    Tom, Cornwall, UK,

    texts: "How will we see the smoke if it's dark? Will a light come on?"


    As night falls over St Peter's Square, the chimney - far up on the Sistine Chapel roof - does appear to be illuminated, but the clearest views of it are on the big screens at ground level.


    tweets: "@ I bet this conclave breaks the record on the length of time it will take to decide the next Pope."

    Crowds in St Peter's Square

    The time of the result of the first round of voting is completely unknown, but that has not stopped hundreds of people gathering in St Peter's Square in the rain.

    Natalie Chandler

    tweets: "As much as I would love it..there will never be an American pope because we are a superpower country. #sadday"


    Michael Harding writes in the Irish Times on the disaffection felt by many with the Church in Ireland: "It wasn't the bombs falling on Dresden or the crooked smoke wafting from the chimneys of concentration camps that destroyed Ireland 's enthusiasm for religion... The grim and intimate narratives of child abuse have been the milestones in Ireland's journey away from the pomp of Rome... For me there will be no more popes. For me, it ended when they placed Pope John Paul II in his simple coffin."

    Marc Wood, London, UK,

    emails: "Modern communication technology (live cam) waiting for ancient communication technology (smoke signals)."

    The BBC's Mike Hirst

    tweets: Hardy pilgrims gathered in blustery St Peter's Square could be in for a wait: Smoke after the first vote in 2005 didn't come til 8pm (7GMT)

    Megan Rendell

    tweets: "Catholic supporter or not, there is something so old-school-cool with the process of deciding upon a new #Pope. #religion"


    If the smoke is black on Tuesday night, from Wednesday, four votes will be held per day, two each morning and two each afternoon - with ballots burned after each session - until one candidate attains a two-thirds majority (77 votes).

    Marina and family in St Peter's Square

    Marina, second left, a Mexican living in Texas, US, said she had come to Rome especially to meet the new pope: "I hope that the new Pope will be close to the youth. That's what we need", she told BBC Mundo's Pablo Esparza Altuna.

    Luisa, Medway, UK,

    emails: "I'm so excited about this! As a non-Catholic, but student of Catholic history, I think it's amazing to see this tradition upheld. Everything has a reason in the ceremony, and everything is steeped in the rich heritage of the Catholic Church."


    The cardinal-electors are now cloistered inside the Vatican to elect the next pope under the gaze of some of the world's most famous fresco paintings - recently restored, the BBC's David Willey writes. Participants in this 75th conclave of the Roman Catholic Church will have time to ponder Michelangelo's esoteric view of the Creation, Heaven, Hell and the martyrdom of the first Pope, St Peter.

    1842: Breaking News

    Black smoke is now visible from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel.


    The smoke is unequivocally black, in contrast to previous years when the colour has not been immediately clear. The cardinal electors will now resume voting tomorrow.


    The cardinals will now retire to their Santa Marta residence for supper and will be assessing the results of the first round of voting, the BBC's Robert Piggott reports from Rome.


    As the voting continues, cardinals may be looking for a younger pope who will the have the time to tackle the challenges the Church faces, as opposed to a more transitional figure, our correspondent adds.

    Gemma Rossi, Bogota, Colombia,

    emails: "I think this next Pope is going to be involved in some of the most significant changes to be seen in the Catholic Church in many years."


    Thousands of onlookers in St Peter's Square cheered in excitement or booed in mock disappointment at the sight of the black smoke, the AFP news agency reports.

    Nick Howley

    tweets: "Even if you aren't catholic, the election of a new Pope is still very historic and a really neat process! #NewPope"


    Black smoke poured from the specially-installed chimney, and was clearly visible despite the late hour.

    Black smoke emerges from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, in St. Peter"s Square at the Vatican

    That ends our live coverage of the first day of the conclave to elect a new pope. The cardinals will be returning to the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday morning for mass and further rounds of voting. BBC News will have full coverage.


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