A major security and logistics operation has been put in place around Vatican City in preparation for the large crowds expected in St Peter’s Square during the papal conclave which begins on Tuesday 12 March.
Via della Conciliazione will remain open to traffic but will be closed immediately after the 115 cardinal electors select a successor to Benedict XVI, to facilitate the influx of people expected to stream into St Peter’s Square.
The cardinals’ first vote takes place on the afternoon of 12 March, and from that evening onwards all eyes will be trained on the chimney over the Sistine Chapel, to the right of the dome, in anticipation of the traditional “white smoke” to signify a new pope. If the smoke is black it means that a pope has yet to be elected.
The Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi has advised that the smoke can be observed twice a day until a pope is elected – at midday and at 19.00 - although some Italian newspapers are giving slight variations. However white smoke might appear at any time during the day.
Roman prayer groups are already preparing to “mark out” their territory in St Peter’s Square by holding non-stop prayers, while other pilgrims are planning a Viva il Papa day in the square on Friday 15 March, in the hope of having a new pope by the weekend.
For more details on the conclave see the Wanted in Rome article by Mary Wilsey.