Rome, Italy – Three days before the much-awaited papal conclave begins, the Vatican completed the installation of the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel -- the source of the famous white or black smoke that keeps the public informed of the voting process for more than 100 cardinals vying to become the next global leader of the Catholic Church.
Firefighters installed the top of the chimney Saturday afternoon, which is connected to a stove inside the Sistine Chapel. After every vote, the ballots are thrown into the stove and burned with chemicals, producing either white smoke symbolizing the election of a new pope or black smoke meaning no consensus was reached and voting must continue.
In addition to the chimney, The Sistine Chapel's makeover included the stapling of a wooden floor board to stabilize the uneven surface of the 15th-century church for the safety of the aging cardinals, who must walk under the iconic fresco of Michelangelo's "Last Judgment” every day.
The Vatican also installed jamming devices around the chapel to prevent outsiders from eavesdropping and cardinals from potentially leaking the news of a new pope.
Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi underscored the secrecy of the conclave process when asked whether pope emeritus Benedict XVI is informed about what's going on in the Vatican and Sistine Chapel.
“We would think so”, said Padre Lombardi. “I’m sure he must be reading the papers, watching television.”
The Papal election process begins Tuesday morning, when the 115 cardinals enter St. Peter's Basilica for mass. Later in the day, the cardinals will leave Santa Marta, where they sleep each night during the conclave, for the Apostolic Palace where they will go to the chapel of St. Paul to gather before being led to the Sistine Chapel by Angelo Scola, the Dean of the College of Cardinals.
The cardinal’s vote only once on the first day and the smoke can be expected in the early evening, though it can come as early or as late as the cardinals would like while in prayer. The same process from beginning to end will occur each day until a cardinal receives a two thirds vote, or 77 of the 115 cardinals, need to become pope.
The conclave is the first to occur at a time in which thousands of tweets highlight instantaneous rumors of secret politicking and negotiating in a process amongst the cardinals thought to be only influenced by the "Holy Spirit."
Inside the Sistine Chapel it's a "religious ceremony, it is quiet, marked by beginning and end by praying," Archbishop Piero Marini, president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses said Saturday.
"It is not only an action of how to do your hanging chads, it is about prayer and then we sign something because we believe the Holy Spirit elects the pope," said Msgr. Kevin Irwin, a professor at the Catholic University of America.
After the first day, if a pope has not been elected, the cardinals will enter the Sistine Chapel each day and vote twice in the morning and twice in the evening.
When a pope is chosen, it will take approximately 40 minutes from the time the white smoke emanates from the chimney and bells begin ringing to the appearance of the Pope on the basilica's balcony. During this time, the Pope needs to accept the papacy, change wardrobe and obtain obedience from the cardinals.
If the cardinals fail to elect a pope by the end of the third day, they will take a day a day off for prayer and rest.
The last conclave to go more than 5 days was in 1831. Pope Benedict XVI's conclave lasted 24 hours, while the longest conclave in history lasted 2 years and nine months -- in the 13th century.
"When cardinals are gathered, the entire church throughout world is gathered with them," Marini said. "We are spiritually united with them and it is an invitation to whole church to wait and pray."