Catholics around the world are still waiting for a new Pope, as cardinals signalled at 7.41pm that they had failed on their first attempt to find a leader for the Church.
Voting papers from the first vote yesterday were burned to produce a plume of black smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney.
“It’s black, it’s black, it’s waaay black!” yelled Eliza Nagle, a 21-year-old Notre Dame theology major on an exchange programme in Rome, as the smoke poured from the 6ft copper chimney.
“They definitely got the colour right this time,” said Father Andrew Gawrych, an American priest based in Rome, referring to the confusion over the smoke during the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
That was thanks to special smoke flares – akin to those used in football matches or protests – lit in the chapel ovens to make the burned ballots black, the sign that cardinals must come back today for another day of voting.
Yesterday’s drama unfolded against the backdrop of the turmoil unleashed by Benedict’s surprise resignation and the exposure of deep divisions among cardinals grappling with whether they need a manager to clean up the Vatican’s dysfunctional bureaucracy, or a pastor who can inspire Catholics at a time of waning faith and growing secularism.
Surrounded by Michelangelo’s imposing frescoes portraying the beginning and the end of the world, cardinals locked themselves in the Sistine Chapel following a final appeal for unity by their dean and set about the business of electing the 266th Pope.
The cardinals each writes his choice on a piece of paper, then folds and tips it into an urn, to be counted by hand by three “scrutineers” who read out the results, one by one.
With no cardinal winning the required 77 votes on the first ballot, the cardinals returned to the Vatican hotel for a simple dinner of pasta with tomato sauce, soup and vegetables before another day of voting today.
The leading contenders for Pope have fallen into two camps, with Italian cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, seen as favoured by those hoping to shake up the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, and Brazilian cardinal Odilo Scherer, favoured by Vatican-based insiders who have defended the status quo.
Other names include Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican’s powerful office for bishops and US cardinals Timothy Dolan, the exuberant archbishop of New York, and Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston.
For more than a week, the cardinals have met privately to try to work out who among them has the qualities to be Pope and what his priorities should be.
But they ended the debate with questions still unanswered and many cardinals predicting a drawn-out election that will further expose the church’s divisions. The conclave proceeds in silence, with no formal debate, behind closed doors.
Outside, the faithful gathered to await the outcome, with groups of nuns singing and playing the guitar, cheering the cardinals on.
“I don’t expect any quick fixes. There will always be problems,” said Sister Manaoag, from the Philippines.
“We have to not get stuck with seeing things like factions and problems, but see beyond that. What does God want? This is something we sometimes forget.”
But the mood was not entirely sombre. A group of women who say they are priests launched pink smoke from a balcony overlooking the square to demand female ordination.
Two topless activists from Femen, a Ukrainian feminist group, which has previously protested at the Vatican’s opposition to gay marriage, were dragged away by police.
And in a bizarre twist, US basketball star Dennis Rodman promised to be in St Peter’s Square today in a makeshift “popemobile” as he campaigns for Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana to become the first black pope.