The College of Cardinals met for a second day of talks today to prepare for the conclave to elect a successor to Pope John Paul as tens of thousands of mourners streamed past the late pontiff’s crimson-robed body as it lay in state in St Peter’s Basilica.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said after the meeting concluded that the cardinals hadn’t yet decided on a date for the conclave, which according to church law must occur between 15 and 20 days after the death of a pope.
He also said John Paul’s body hadn’t been embalmed, as those of recent popes have been, but that it had been ”prepared” for public viewing.
The ringing of bells will accompany traditional white smoke to signal the election of a new pope.
Archbishop Piero Marini, master of ceremonies for liturgical celebrations, said the bells were being added to avoid confusion over the colour of the smoke coming from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.
Black smoke signals no decision has been made after a round of voting; white smoke means a pope has been elected.
“This time we plan to ring the bells to make the election of the pope clearer,” he said, recalling the confusion that ensued in past papal elections over the colour of smoke. “This way even journalists will know.”
He said the Vatican was also trying to improve the burning procedure to make the colour more easily identifiable.
The cardinals have not yet read John Paul’s spiritual testament, said Navarro-well. They spent the day continuing to work out details of Friday’s funeral, in which John Paul will be laid to rest with regal pageantry near the tomb which is traditionally believed to be that of the first pope, St Peter.
Navarro-Valls said 91 of the 183 cardinals were in Rome as of Tuesday. Only 117 of them – those under the age of 80 – can vote in a conclave.
Brazilian Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo said he thought a new pope would be chosen quickly.
“I don’t think it will be a long conclave,” he said, adding that cardinals would have had time to reflect beforehand and should already have “clear ideas” when they begin the voting.
John Paul expressed a wish to be buried in the ground as opposed to an above-ground tomb, said Monsignor Piero Marini, master of ceremonies for liturgical celebrations.
Navarro-Valls said John Paul hadn’t been embalmed, but had been “prepared” for the days of public viewing in the basilica.
Recent popes have been embalmed, although Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978, was only lightly embalmed before his body was put on full display in St. Peter’s during Rome’s hot summer. After two days, the body began to decay.
John XXIII’s body, on the contrary, was preserved in excellent condition when it was exhumed in 2001 from the place where John Paul will be buried.