VATICAN CITY -- Black smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel chimney signaled the first vote of the conclave ended Tuesday without a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
More than 100 cardinals have gathered to elect Pope Benedict's successor. One cardinal called his vote the most important decision of his life.
No one knows how long it might take, but the election will have a profound impact on the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
In Rome, there's an air of anticipation about the conclave, a sense that the Catholic Church is at a crossroads and that the election of a new pope might set a new tone for years to come.
What kind of pope do American Catholics hope will be elected? Thomas Peters, with CatholicVote.org, explains that and more, on CBN Newswatch March 12, following this report.
"This is such an exciting moment of history," Ashley Noronha, Vatican correspondent for Relavent Radio, said.
"The tone of this new papacy will be certainly set by where the pope is from, where his strengths are," she said. "But ultimately what we hope and pray for is a pope who is, as Paul said, you know, in 2 Corinthians 5:20, who is an ambassador for Christ."
The cardinals realize the importance of their decision.
"I think it's always on the top of your mind that I am going to do now something which will not just affect my life, but affect lives all over the world," Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., said.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, said, "When you go with your ballot paper in your hand and hold it up in front of the altar and say, 'I call on the Lord Jesus who will be my judge to witness that I am voting for the one I believe to be worthy,' that's really a moment of intense emotion."
While there's no clear front-runner, Vatican watchers have identified several favorites, including the following:
- Cardinal Odilo Scherer (Brazil)
- Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (Philippines)
- Cardinal Angelo Scola (Italy)
American Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean O'Malley from Boston are also possibilities.
Dolan is known for his strong conservative views and his sense of humor.
"There's a great crowd here. Let's do two collections," Dolan joked.
O'Malley, who typically wears sandals, is known for his simple lifestyle.
"Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will move the Church to choose a pope who will confirm us in our faith," O'Malley said.
Yet the conclave can be unpredictable. The saying goes that the one who enters the conclave a pope, comes out a cardinal.
The cardinals will continue their voting on Wednesday.