By Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor (with Agency reports)
LAGOS — Out-going Catholic Pontiff Benedict XVI has asked the faithful to pray for him and for his successor who is expected to emerge next month when no fewer than 120 electors from the College of Cardinals convene.
In his speech to the crowd of over 50,000 worshipers at St. Peter’s Square, yesterday, the Holy Father said “I beg you to continue to pray for me and for the next Pope.” The polyglot Pope chose the Spanish language to address the people after which he retired into the Vatican’s ApostolicPalace for a scheduled spiritual retreat and will not make any public appearance until next Sunday.
The crowd chanted “Long live the pope!,” waved banners and broke into sustained applause as he spoke from his window. The 85-year-old Benedict, who will abdicate on February 28, thanked them in several languages.
A number of cardinals have said they would be open to the possibility of a pope from the developing world, be it Latin America, Africa or Asia, as opposed to another from Europe, where the Church is in crisis and polarized.
Reports, yesterday, said the cardinals will gather on March 1, a day after Benedict steps down and departs for Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer home in the hills outside Rome.
By the time the 120 Cardinal electors enter the conclave to choose the next pope, they must be ready to vote. There is no formal nominating process for choosing the man to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, and campaigning for oneself is counterproductive. But the cardinals will file into the Sistine Chapel.
According to church rules, the conclave could begin on March 15, but the Vatican spokesman said, Saturday, that it may start even earlier. The cardinals, eager to finish the process by Palm Sunday on March 24, could reinterpret the mandatory 15-day waiting period, the spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said.
The waiting period was intended to allow time for cardinals to gather after the death of a pope, but because Benedict’s resignation has already been announced, the cardinals have advance notice and, in fact, many have already begun discussions by phone and e-mail.
At the moment, there are 209 Cardinals. There will be at most 120 electors drawn from the College of Cardinals to vote for the next Pope at the conclave.
Any Cardinal who turns 80 before the day the Papacy is vacated cannot take part in the election. Pope Benedict XVI will vacate the papacy on February 28. Reports said “Any Cardinal born before February 28, 1933 is automatically eliminated, narrowing this Conclave’s possible field of electors to 116 Cardinals”.
The composition of that group is crucial when analyzing the potential selections of Popes. Each region has a certain number of Cardinals representing their area at the Vatican. Of the Electors:
10 are from Africa
12 are from Asia
20 are from North America
13 from South America
61 are from Europe.
Of the European delegation, 28 of the 61 European Cardinals are from Italy.
The Conclave to select Benedict’s replacement will begin sometime between March 15 and March 20. From the start of the conclave onward, the Cardinals are completely cut off from the outside world inside a hospice within the Vatican. Voting takes place inside a locked Sistine Chapel.
Two ballots will be held each day and a two-thirds plus one majority is required to elect the Pope. After 12 or 13 days, the Cardinals can swap over to majority voting to expedite the process.
The top of each ballot is inscribed with the latin Eligo in Summum Pontificem which translates to “I elect as supreme pontiff.” The elector than writes the name of the desired choice on the ballot in secret. As each Cardinal votes, they pray, and deposit their vote at the altar.
Three Cardinals delegated as Scrutineers count the ballots, ensure everyone has voted, each make a count and then burn the ballots. The scrutineers douse the discarded ballots with chemicals to make the smoke black if there isn’t a Pope, and make the smoke white in the event that “Habemus