Angelo Scola deemed favourite for Pope as cardinals huddle
The Archbishop of Milan is the name on many lips - there’s still no clear-cut frontrunner
ROME – As 115 Cardinals headed into their first secret conclave vote in the Sistine Chapel to begin the process of electing the 266th Pope this afternoon, thunder rumbled across angry Rome skies.
Extra Omnes - "everybody out" - the Vatican master of ceremonies intoned at about 4pm UK time and the staff left the cardinals to begin the voting process in a total lockdown. Signal jammers are even installed to prohibit leaks.
With no clear frontrunner, speculation has been rampant about who will be chosen to follow in the footsteps of Benedict XVI after his historic resignation. The first black pope? A young Asian pope? A Viennese nobleman pope? A jovial American pope? A pope who tweets Amy Winehouse lyrics? An Italian touted as the "outsider" or a Brazilian considered the "insider"?
The Italian press has dubbed Angelo Scola the favourite.
Scola, 71, is the son of a truck driver and homemaker who became a priest aged 29 after studying philosophy and teaching for a few years. He got to know Joseph Ratzinger in the 1970s long before he became Pope Benedict XVI, and is close to him both theologically and personally. It was Ratzinger who appointed him Patriarch of Venice and then Archbishop of Milan, the world's largest parish.
In his hometown on Lake Como, his cousins, extended family and childhood friends hope he'll be elected.
"He would be very very good. He is really in another category," said one of Scola's cousins.
The local mayor, Giovanni Codega, said: "I think the church needs big change and Scola could do that while keeping in mind the continuity of the church – since he had a very close relationship with Ratzinger."
To become Pope, a cardinal must have 77 votes - a two-thirds majority. The first ballot will be held his evening and black smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney will announce that the first ballot papers have been burned. The cardinals will then reconvene tomorrow morning for the second ballot.
It is at this stage that a clear frontrunner will hopefully emerge. If other voting cardinals fall in behind, then we could see the white smoke on the third or fourth ballot.
If, however, on the second vote no one gains a large enough margin, the conclave will likely become more protracted as other names are considered.
More than 5,600 journalists have gathered in Rome to deliver the centuries-old ritual in real time to viewers worldwide. Cardinals coming and going from St Peter's have been tailed by cameramen, like rock stars or politicians. Some cardinals have been tweeting.
Behind the scenes, the word is that intense power struggles have been unfolding, with conservative and liberal Catholic leaders agreed on the need for reform, but divided over who should take it on.
Is Cardinal Scola the man who can bring unity? We should know within the next two days. ·