Hours from now, at exactly 4:45 p.m.-8 p.m. (11:45 a.m.-3 p.m. EDT; 1545-1900 GMT), the 115 cardinal electors will flock into the Sistine Chapel to begin and undergo the arduous process of this year's papal conclave, or the election for the new pope to succeed resigned Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. If the 1.2 billion-strong Roman Catholics get lucky, a new pope may be elected just about tonight. But what if a deadlock occurs?
Then the procedure repeats itself again and again until a new pope is chosen. The cardinals will keep going, regardless if it is already Palm Sunday and they have yet to still decide on a new pope.
Punters and bettors may have already set their minds on who the next 266th pope should be, but to the very assembly who bears the responsibility to choose one, even themselves remain in deep thinking as to who among them suitably fit the role.
"It's not journalists that vote in the conclave. It's cardinals," the Catholic News Agency quoted Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera as saying on Sunday, after celebrating Mass at his titular church of San Francesco di Ripa Grande.
Suffice to say, the new pope may emerge from the highly mentioned papabilis or a considered dark horse. Apparently, the cardinal electors have no specific favourites among them.
This afternoon, one balloting will be done. If no cardinal gets a majority of 77 votes to his name, four ballots will be held on Wednesday and on each successive day - two in each morning and two in each afternoon. In every balloting day, before voting in the morning and afternoon, the cardinal electors are required every time to take an oath to obey the rules of the conclave.
If after three days has passed and there is still no new pope, the Vatican will temporarily suspend the papal conclave for a day of prayer. The cardinals will then be given an address by the senior Cardinal Deacon.
If after seven days has passed and still no new pope, the process will again be temporarily suspended, this time the senior Cardinal Priest giving the address.
If the process continues for the next 14 ballots, and no results are still achieved, the Vatican will declare a day of prayer, reflection and dialogue.
After which in the succeeding ballots, only the two names who received the most votes in the last ballot shall be considered in a runoff election.
French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the most senior cardinal from the order of deacons or "cardinal proto-deacon," is the one tasked to proclaim the outcome of the conclave from St Peter's Basilica.
The college of cardinals is divided up into three categories or orders, including bishops, priests and deacons.
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