Cardinals Set April 18 Date for Conclave

By Laura King

Los Angeles Times

April 6, 2005

VATICAN CITY — The College of Cardinals today set April 18 to begin the process to select a successor to Pope John Paul II, as a seemingly endless line of mourners wound through the ancient cobbled streets surrounding St. Peter's Square.

The cardinals have approved the elaborate ritual elements of Friday's papal funeral, expected to be the largest public event ever held in the city-state. They will gather 10 days later to start their conclave at which the next pope will be chosen by secret ballots cast in the frescoed Sistine Chapel.

By church practice, the sequestered gathering, whose name comes from the Latin phrase for "with a key," must commence between 15 and 20 days after the pope's death.

In a planned break with tradition, the cardinals have decided that when a new pope is chosen, it will be signaled not only with the customary puff of white smoke emanating from the chapel, but also by the pealing of the huge, deep-toned bell of St. Peter's Basilica. Black smoke signifies an inconclusive ballot.

The Vatican apparently wishes to avoid confusion similar to that which arose at a 1978 conclave, when a problem with the additive used in the burning ballots turned the smoke gray instead of white, triggering pandemonium and a cascade of frantic calls to the Vatican press office.

"We will try to make it work better," Archbishop Piero Marini, the Vatican's master of ceremonies for liturgical affairs, told reporters. "The bell will also ring so that journalists will have no doubts."

There are 183 cardinals in all, but only 117 of them — those under the age of 80 — are eligible to take part in the conclave. Ninety-one of the cardinals from around the world are already in Rome, and 88 of them took part in Tuesday's two-hour session, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters.

Marini said changes made by John Paul would create a "looser lockup" for the cardinals during the conclave. Instead of being shut inside spartan quarters with sealed windows and shared bathrooms, they will stay in a comfortable modern hotel inside the Vatican and will be able to walk in the walled city's expansive gardens.

Hundreds of world leaders and dignitaries, including kings and queens, prime ministers and presidents, are to attend Friday's funeral rites, with the list growing daily. President Bush and his wife, Laura, will be accompanied by former Presidents Bush and Clinton, together with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Bush will be the first sitting president to attend a pope's funeral. Precedent will also be set by the attendance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, which will mark the first time since the schism more than four centuries ago that a serving head of the Church of England comes to the burial of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

In keeping with practice of centuries' standing, John Paul's body will be placed in a triple casket for burial, one fitted inside the next, Navarro-Valls said. The innermost is of cypress, the second of zinc and the outer one of fir.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica on Tuesday, the pope's body was on public view for a first full day, lying on a cream-colored bier while great slanting shafts of light filtered in through the church's high windows.

The Vatican and Italian officials said unprecedented numbers of pilgrims, as many as 18,000 people per hour, were filing past the crimson-clad body during nearly round-the-clock viewing. Many of those entering had waited in a miles-long line for more than eight hours.

Even though the pope's body will be on display until Thursday, it has not been embalmed, Navarro-Valls told reporters. But he added, without elaborating, that it had been "prepared" for viewing.

Bogdan Pilch, a 49-year-old Polish businessman, arrived by train early Tuesday with a group of friends. They came straight to St. Peter's Square and got in line, emerging hours later with what they said was a sense of tremendous peace and satisfaction.

"It was something we had to do for this man who did everything for our country, and so much for the world," said Pilch, who is from Krakow, near the pope's hometown.

The total number of people entering St. Peter's Square on Monday and Tuesday reached 1million, Italian officials said — an enormous number, even allowing for some repeat visitors. More than half a million more were expected to make their way into the enormous colonnaded plaza and the vaulted basilica today.

Pilgrims will be able to continue filing past the body until Thursday night, when it will be removed and placed in the cypress coffin, which will lie closed on the steps of St. Peter's during Friday's open-air rites. Vatican officials said that before the closing of the coffin, a white silken veil would be placed over the pontiff's face.

John Paul will be entombed in the grottoes below the basilica that have for centuries been the burial place of popes. Marini, the liturgical affairs expert, told reporters that the pope had expressed a wish to be buried underground, rather than in an aboveground tomb. In contrast with the elaborate sarcophagi that some popes commissioned for themselves, the tomb is to be marked only by a simple stone slab engraved with his name and the years his life spanned.

Contained in the sealed coffin will be a small parcel of commemorative medals and a document about John Paul's life and pontificate, to be sealed in a lead tube.