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Cardinals Prepare to Pick a New Pope

Franco Origlia/Getty Images(ROME) -- What would God do?  That’s the question many Roman Catholic Cardinals meeting in Rome are asking themselves as they prepare to select the next Pope.

The Sistine Chapel at the Vatican is now closed to the public as the College of Cardinals prepares to gather in the sanctuary on Tuesday to pick the next pontiff.

The 115 cardinals themselves are sworn to secrecy, but retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who participated in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, says it's a very emotional and solemn ritual.

“You're voting for the man you think God would want," McCarrick says.

The cardinal adds, “It's a very emotional time and a very, very deep moment when you try to read the mind of God.”

When white smoke does billow out of the Sistine Chapel's chimney, the centuries-old signal that a new pope has been chosen, thousands of people will get a text message and an email.

It's not a service from the Holy See, but rather Pope Alarm, a new website that promises “when the smoke goes up, you'll know what's going down.”

Once the new pope is introduced to the world on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, thousands more will then check their Fantasy Conclave picks to see how they fared.

"I love the fact contemporary media is giving people access to new ways to the conclave," says Matthew Bunson, general editor of the Catholic Almanac.  “It demonstrates that there is intense interest all over the world.”

When the cardinal electors enter the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday, they'll have the prayers and support of people who have registered to “adopt a cardinal.”

After someone enters their email address on the Adopt a Cardinal website, they're assigned one of the 115 cardinal electors to keep in their prayers.  The cardinals know about the site, and they seem to approve.

“To all participating in 'Adopt a Cardinal' project: 'Thank you very much for 'adopting' us. Your prayers are helping us discern God's will,” Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, tweeted.

Once the conclave begins, the cardinals will live detached from the outside world until a new pope is chosen.

Cellphone-jamming devices are installed in the Sistine Chapel in order to ensure the utmost secrecy, and for the approximately nine cardinals who are active on Twitter, that means taking a social media vacation.

The cardinal electors will vote four times per day -- twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon -- until they reach a two-thirds majority.

If the next pope were chosen by an online popularity contest, three social-media-savvy cardinals would have to duke it out for the top spot.

The Twitter and Facebook accounts of Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York, Luis Tagle of Manila and Gianfranco Ravasi of Italy have accounted for more than 85 percent of cardinals' social media use, according to Decisyon, an Italian start-up specializing in social media analysis.

While Bunson called being social media-savvy “a plus” for the contenders, he said it's essential the new pope embraces Twitter, as Benedict XVI did, and other forms of digital media.

“Certainly popes have embraced the use of radio, film, and television and then the Internet,” he said.  “Social media is the next area of communication that has to be used and understood if the church is going to evangelize and get the gospel out there.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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