First vote to choose new pope is inconclusive

Vatican City, Mar 12 (EFE).- Black smoke came out of the Sistine Chapel's chimney Tuesday evening, indicating that the first ballot of the 115 cardinals charged with choosing a new pope did not produce a result.

The "fumata" billowed forth at 7:42 p.m., just over two hours after the cardinal electors enclosed themselves to designate the successor to Benedict XVI.

The dense black smoke wafted up for a long enough time to leave no doubt of its color.

A white "fumata" is the signal that a new pope has been chosen.

Thousands of people congregated in St. Peter's Square to follow the event closely, defying Rome's rain and cold.

It requires a two-thirds majority, in this case, 77 votes, to elect a new pontiff.

Four ballots are expected on Wednesday, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, and on the following day.

If after three days, no one has won 77 votes, a day of reflexion and prayer will be held before resuming the balloting.

Benedict XVI was elected March 19, 2005 on the fourth vote, while John Paul II emerged as pontiff on Oct. 16, 1978 on the eighth vote.

The present conclave is being guided by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re because the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and the vice dean, Roger Etchegaray, cannot be in the Sistine Chapel because they are both octogenarians.

The College of Cardinals, called the "most exclusive club in the world," is composed of 207 cardinals from 66 countries, 51 of which have cardinal electors.

Of these cardinals, two were appointed by Paul VI, 117 by John Paul II, and 90 by Benedict XVI, who stepped down on Feb. 28.

The leading candidates to become the next pope, according to observers, are Italian Angelo Scola, the 71-year-old archbishop of Milan; Brazilian Pedro Odilo Scherer, the 63-year-old archbishop of Sao Paulo; Canadian Marc Ouellet, the 69-year-old president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and Archbishop of Boston Sean O'Malley, a 68-year-old Capuchin.