Sequested under the protection of the ancient Swiss Guard, Roman Catholic Cardinals filed into the Sistine Chapel Monday to begin the conclave to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II, following a centuries-old tradition that is steeped in pageantry, intrigue, and secrecy.
One by one, the red-robed cardinals placed their right hand on a book of the Gospels laid in the middle of the frescoed chapel, swearing an oath of secrecy and fidelity to the Church.
“We likewise promise, pledge and swear that whichever of us by divine disposition is elected Roman Pontiff will commit himself faithfully to carrying out the (office) of the Universal Church,” the 115 elector cardinals said in turn.
Michelangelo’s imposing fresco of the Last Judgement stared down on the prelates, who are drawn from six continents and 52 countries, while an organ played in the background.
All the outside world will know of their work is when a puff of smoke blows out of the chapel’s chimney -- black smoke when there is no decision and white smoke when a pope is elected.