Rome – Suspense mounts as 115 cardinals locked inside the Sistine Chapel, begin the conclave, a secret papal election, with no clear frontrunner to take over as head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Earlier in the day, the 115 cardinal-electors attended a special Mass in St Peter's Basilica.
Cardinal Deacon Angelo Sodano, during his homily for the "Pro Ligendo Pontifice" mass, praised the beloved and venerated Pope Benedict XVI. “To whom we would like to renew our thanks at this time." The 85-year-old cardinal, said: “I wished to thank the Lord for the loving assistance He has always given to His Holy Church and in particular for the luminous papacy which He conferred on us with the life and works of the 265th successor of Saint Peter."
They then proceeded into the Sistine Chapel to begin their secret deliberations. They will vote four times daily until two-thirds can agree on a candidate.
The election was prompted by the surprise abdication of Benedict XVI.
The 85-year-old stepped down last month saying he was no longer strong enough to lead the church, which is beset by problems ranging from a worldwide scandal over sexual abuse to allegations of corruption at the Vatican bank.
Benedict's resignation and the recent damage to the Church's reputation make the choice of the cardinal-electors especially hard to predict.
Meanwhile, Italian experts believed that Benedict XVI's successor will be an "energetic" pope able to promote the new role of church in today's world.
Although any prediction should be taken cautiously, some names emerged as solid candidates, described as reformers coming out of Benedict XVI's intellectual tradition and what emerged from the recently held informal discussions was that cardinals were looking for "a strong personality, as indicated by Benedict XVI, to promptly face today's needs," philosopher and lay theologist Massimo Cacciari told the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
"The new pope will not be a transition one," he pointed out.
Experts agreed that the changed global scenario requires a determined and relatively young pontiff to deal with the escalating scandals that have recently hit the church, from child abuse to shady money management, and foster relations with emerging powers.
The next pontiff will have to win the votes of two thirds of the 115 cardinals from 48 countries taking part in the Sistine Chapel's secret election. Among the electors, 60 were European nationals, of which nearly a half from Italy.
"He will be a man of the utmost integrity, healthy and strong so that he can withstand the difficulties that almost forced Benedict XVI to step down," said Gianni Gennari, a moral theology and religion philosophy professor in different universities, author and vaticanologist for Rai state television.
Gennari told Xinhua he believed that the upcoming conclave will be more complex compared to past papal elections, and will also last longer. - SAnews.gov.za-AGI-Xinhua