msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/20/2005 4:59:28 AM ET 2005-04-20T08:59:28

• MUSLIM LEADERS URGE IMPROVED TIES | 5:00 a.m. ET

Muslim leaders on Wednesday urged the new pope to follow the path of his predecessor by building bridges between the two religions and helping to avoid religious bloodshed.

“I hope the new Pope will follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and try to bring peace in the world,” said Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a Pakistani Islamic cleric and politician.

But the ecumenical record of conservative German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — suggests to some of his Christian critics that he may be not be as effective at building bridges — a concern echoed in some cautious Muslim comments.

“There is a lot of concern and worry among Muslims over the war that was launched a few years back in the name of curbing terrorism,” said Ahmed, deputy parliamentary leader of Pakistan’s Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance of Islamic parties.

“In order to win sympathy and support of Europeans, this war was portrayed as a Crusade. We hope the Pope will try to annul this impression," he said.

• FIRST MASS FOR BENEDICT XVI | 4:15 a.m. ET

Benedict XVI celebrated his first Mass as pope on Wednesday.

Dressed in resplendent white and gold papal vestments and miter, Benedict looked solemn as he celebrated Mass with the red-hatted cardinals in the Renaissance Sistine Chapel where he was elected.

The pope admitted to having a sense of inadequacy after being elected on Tuesday. by Roman Catholic cardinals but believed his predecessor John Paul II was holding his hand.

“On one hand I have a sense of inadequacy and human turmoil at the responsibility entrusted to me yesterday ... on the other hand, I feel living in me a deep gratitude to God who does not abandon his flock but guides them always,” the pope said at the end of the Mass.

• CONGRATULATIONS FROM CHINA | 12:01 a.m. ET

China on Wednesday congratulated the newly appointed Pope Benedict XVI and said it hoped Beijing’s strained relations with the Roman Catholic Church improve under his leadership.

“We hope under the leadership of the new pope, the Vatican side can create favorable conditions for improving the relationship between China and the Vatican,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.

China’s officially atheist government broke ties with the Vatican in 1951 and has said it will consider opening relations only if the Vatican cuts links with rival Taiwan, which split with the mainland in 1949 amid civil war.

Qin said relations between the two sides could improve under two conditions.

“The Vatican must cut off its so-called diplomatic relations with Taiwan, acknowledging the People’s Republic of China is the only sole legal government representing the whole of China,” he said.

Secondly, the Vatican “must not intervene in China’s domestic affairs, including not intervening in domestic affairs in the name of religion,” Qin said.

The official body representing China’s Catholics also sent a congratulatory cable to the Vatican and asked its followers to pray for him as a gesture of congratulations, Qin said.

• QUESTIONS ABOUT PROBE | 11:50 p.m. ET

A former trainee priest who has accused the founder of an influential Catholic order of sexual abuse says that new Pope Benedict XVI deliberately shelved a probe into his claims for six years.

Jose Barba is one of eight ex-members of the Rome-based Legion of Christ, most of them Mexicans, who accuse the order’s founder, Marcial Maciel, of sexually abusing them from the 1940s through the 1960s.

The allegations are too old to be investigated under criminal law but nine former members brought a suit against Maciel, 84, under the Vatican’s canonical law in 1998. One has since died.

The case was filed at the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who was elected Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday.

Barba, spokesman for the accusers, says the claims were hushed up because Maciel and his ultra-conservative order were close to Pope John Paul II.

“The question is: Was Cardinal Ratzinger totally and solely responsible? I think that to a great extent he was because it was his department,” said Barba, now 68 and a professor of Latin American studies at Mexico City’s ITAM university.

Maciel stepped down as leader of the Legion of Christ, citing his age, a month after the Vatican finally announced last December it would take up the abuse allegations.

Barba alleged that the Church’s willingness to probe the issue could have been an attempt by Ratzinger to clean up the matter to improve his chances of becoming pope.

“It would have been very embarrassing for the cardinal to turn up at the conclave with the reputation of someone who had covered up a scandal,” the Mexican said.

Maciel, who lives in Rome, has denied the abuse charges.

“The Legion of Christ struggles to express how deeply we regret that the accusers attempt to tar the Vatican, Cardinal Ratzinger, and even Pope John Paul II with the stain of these false allegations,” it said in a statement that has been on its Web site for three years.

Founded in 1941, the order has around 500 priests and 2,500 seminarians in some 20 countries including Spain and the United States.

A Mexican bishop handed Ratzinger a letter in 2000 outlining allegations of abuse by Maciel against a Spanish priest, said Barba, who accuses the Legion founder of molesting him in Rome in the 1950s.

Barba said that when he handed another letter to a Vatican official in 2002 detailing alleged abuses, he was told that the missive would be forwarded to Ratzinger.

Maciel was warmly praised by John Paul on the 60th anniversary of his ordination last November but the probe against him was announced just days later.

• DISAPPOINTMENT IN U.S. | 7:55 p.m. ET

As a Roman Catholic cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI warned American voters against departing from church teaching at the ballot box, drew criticism from victims of clerical sex abuse and opposed married or women priests.

U.S. Catholics may come to admire the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for his intellect, spirituality and consistent support for the traditions of their faith.

But as with John Paul II, the majority of American Catholics seem certain to diverge from him on numerous policy issues.

“In America, he has many avid supporters, but many who are not so keen on the power he has wielded,” says Chester Gillis, theology chairman at Georgetown University. His elevation “is not going to be received unequivocally with great admiration by all American Catholics — no question about that.”

• DISAPPOINTMENT IN THE THIRD WORLD | 7 p.m. ET

From the shanty-covered hillsides of Tegucigalpa to the cosmopolitan streets of Buenos Aires and dusty villages in Africa, hopes had been high that the new pope would be someone intimately tied to the developing world and its challenges.

Disappointment was evident when German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was chosen instead.

“I would have liked someone different: younger, with new ideas and perhaps with darker skin like us,” said Alfonso Mercado, an ice cream seller in Pereira, Colombia.

In Africa, the Vatican’s announcement dashed hopes for those who were pulling for Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria.

In Onitsha, the city in southeastern Nigeria where Arinze once was bishop, people gathered in restaurants and shops — wherever they could find a television — to watch the announcement.

Mary Ekpe, a 30-year-old Nigerian banker, said she never really expected an African pope to be elected. "I know Europeans and Americans are not ready for that yet,” Ekpe said. “But I thought they would’ve elected somebody from Latin America.”

• SOME PAPAL BETTORS WIN BIG | 5:50 p.m. ET

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope, he wasn't the only winner. Thousands worldwide placed bets on him through the Web — and an inspired few hundred even correctly guessed he'd take the name Benedict.

Among a handful of Internet-based bookmakers who offered odds on the next pope, the biggest player was Paddy Power PLC, the No. 1 bookie in Ireland,

Minutes after Benedict XVI appeared in St. Peter's Square, Paddy Power was collecting — or paying out — on more than 10,000 bets totaling more than $260,000.

The biggest winners: Someone who put down $1,050 Saturday on a Ratzinger victory at odds of 6 to 1, which meant a payout of $7,350; and somebody else who waged $260 on the new pontiff's taking Benedict, which at 3-to-1 odds meant $1,050 back.

• HINTS OF PAPACY COULD COME SOON | 4:55 p.m. ET

Pope Benedict XVI will be formally installed Sunday, but hints of what his papacy will mean for the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics could come as early as Wednesday in his homily at Mass, which the Vatican said would be delivered in Latin.

In the first homily of John Paul II after his election in 1978, the newly elected pope seized the moment to impress the faithful with his now-famous phrase: “Don’t be afraid.” John Paul directed it at all Catholics, but believers in his native Poland — then struggling to shake off communist rule — took his words especially to heart.

• PRESIDENT BUSH PRAISES RATZINGER | 3:45 p.m. ET

President Bush joins other world leaders in praising the choice of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new pope, calling him a "man of great wisdom and knowledge."

"He's a man who serves the Lord," Bush tells reporters at the White House.

• DISCIPLINED NUN SPEAKS OUT | 3:08 p.m. ET

A Roman Catholic nun in Maryland who was ordered by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to stop ministering to gays and lesbians tells the Associated Press that his election as pope is "devastating" for those who believe the Catholic Church needs to be more tolerant on social issues such as homosexuality.

Sister Jeannine Gramick says the choice of Ratzinger, who as the Vatican's guardian of doctrine silenced her and Father Robert Nugent in a 1999 order, will likely prevent the church from "moving into the 21st century and out of the Middle Ages."

"It does not bode well for people who are concerned for lesbian and gay people in the church," she said.

• GERMAN CATHOLICS DIVIDED | 2:41 p.m. ET

The Associated Press reports that opinion about former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger remains deeply divided in Germany, a sharp contrast to John Paul, who was revered in his native Poland. A recent poll for Der Spiegel news weekly said Germans opposed to Ratzinger becoming pope outnumbered supporters 36 percent to 29 percent, with 17 percent having no preference. The poll of 1,000 people, taken April 5-7, gave no margin of error.

• DINING WITH THE CARDINALS | 2:18 p.m. ET

The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI will dine Tuesday night with the cardinals in the Vatican hotel.

• INAUGURAL MASS SCHEDULED | 2 p.m. ET

Reuters quotes the Vatican as saying that Pope Benedict XVI will hold his official inaugural Mass on Sunday at 10 a.m. (4 a.m. ET).

• NO CONCERNS FROM GERMAN JEW | 1:55 p.m. ET

While some have questioned whether the new pope betrayed any pro-Nazi sentiment during his teenage years in Germany during World War II, the leader of Germany’s main Jewish organization tells the Associated Press that he has no reservations about his past.

"We are certain that he will continue on the path of reconciliation between Christians and Jews that John Paul II began," Paul Spiegel, says in a telephone interview.

In his memoirs, former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote of being enrolled in Hitler's Nazi youth movement against his will when he was 14 in 1941, when membership was compulsory. He says he was soon let out because of his studies for the priesthood.

Two years later he was drafted into a Nazi anti-aircraft unit as a helper, a common fate for teenage boys too young to be soldiers. Enrolled as a soldier at 18, in the last months of the war, he barely finished basic training.

• A FAST ELECTION | 1:43 p.m. ET

The Associated Press reports that the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the fastest elections in the past century: Pope Pius XII was elected in 1939 in three ballots on one day, while Pope John Paul I was elected in 1978 in four ballots in one day. The new pope was elected after either four or five ballots over two days.

• SURPRISE AT UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME | 1:35 p.m. ET

In comments gathered by Reuters news agency shortly after Ratzinger’s elevation to pope was announced, Lawrence Cunningham, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, says he considers the selection a surprise:

"I was surprised for a couple of reasons. One is his age (78). … The second is that I thought he might have been too much of a polarizing person. But that may not be the perception that was shared by the cardinals.     It is very clear that he is going to be a pope that is going to take very seriously the problems of the Catholic Church in Europe."

• WEB SITE ‘TRADERS’ PICK RATZINGER | 1:26 p.m. ET

Intrade.com, an Internet site that allows gamblers to wager on real-world outcomes in much the same way that stock traders bet that certain stocks will appreciate in value, issues a press release stating that its customers correctly tabbed Ratzinger as the next pontiff.

• FIRST GERMAN POPE SINCE 1523 | 1:20 p.m. ET

NBC News reports that Benedict XVI is one of just a handful of popes of German ancestry. The last non-Italian Pope before John Paul II — Adrian VI (1522-23 A.D.) — was born in Utrecht, now in the Netherlands, of German ancestry. He is sometimes referred to as the last German pope as Utrecht was considered German at the time. There were also a series of popes from places where modern Germany is located in the 11th century, the most recent being Stephen X (1057-58 A.D.); they were nominated by Holy Roman Emperor Henry III.

• BID TO SOFTEN IMAGE? | 1:08 p.m. ET

The Associated Press reports that the pope's selection of Benedict XVI could be interpreted as a bid to soften his image as the Vatican's doctrinal hard-liner. Benedict XV, who reigned from 1914 to 1922, was a moderate following Pius X, who had implemented a sharp crackdown against doctrinal "modernism."

• FIRST BLESSING | 12:58 p.m. ET

In his first blessing as pope, Benedict XVI tells the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square: "Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me — a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord. The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers."

• PREVIOUS ROLE | 12:54 p.m. ET

Joseph Ratzinger, the first German pope in centuries, had served John Paul II since 1981 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that position, he has disciplined church dissidents and upheld church policy against attempts by liberals for reforms.

• POPE BENEDICT XVI | 12:48 p.m. ET

Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estivez announces that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has chosen the name Pope Benedict XVI, or the 16th pope of that name.

• GERMAN CARDINAL IS NEW POPE | 12:45 p.m. ET

Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estivez announces that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany is the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

• 'HABEMUS PAPAM!' | 12:40 p.m. ET

Niels Hendrich, a 40-year-old salesman from Hamburg, Germany, jumped up and down with joy and called his father on a cell phone, when he learned the announcement was imminent. “Habemus papam!” he shouted into the phone, using the Latin for: “We have a pope.”

• A QUICK SELECTION | 12:40 p.m. ET

Prelates gather on the roof of the Apostolic Palace to learn who the new pope will be.

“It’s only been 24 hours, surprising how fast he was elected,” Vatican Radio says, commenting on how the new pope was elected on the second day of the conclave, after just four or five ballots.

• PACKING THE SQUARE | 12:35 p.m. ET

People by the thousands pour into St. Peter's Square. Many wave the flags of their home countries.

• WAITING FOR AN APPEARANCE | 12:25 p.m. ET

The new pope is expected to appear soon on the main balcony of the basilica to deliver his first public address.

• CHEERS IN THE SQUARE | 12:12 p.m. ET

Realizing that a new pope has been chosen, crowds in St. Peter's Square chant: “Viva il papa!” or “Long live the pope!”

• NEW POPE | 12:09 p.m. ET

Bells ringing signaling election of a pope.

Smoke is coming from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel -- but it's uncertain whether it's the white smoke that would signal election of a new pope.

• HILLARY FOR POPE? | 11:18 a.m. ET

While much of the world awaits smoke signals from the Vatican cardinals, New York Rep. Peter King joked Tuesday about a dark horse candidate for the vacant position: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

King, a sometimes maverick within his own Republican Party, praised and poked fun at New York’s junior senator when they both appeared at a breakfast of construction union officials.

“Maybe we can elect Hillary Clinton pope. God knows what she’s running for,” joked King, to roars from the crowd.

Clinton is up for re-election to the Senate in 2006, and considered the Democratic Party’s early front-runner for the 2008 White House nomination.

King said that while he sometimes disagreed with the senator, “when it comes to New York, Senator Clinton is always there,” praise not likely to be used in any 2006 GOP campaign against her.

• MONEY ON ARINZE | 10:22 a.m. ET

Nigeria's cardinal stormed forward on betting boards and Germany's Joseph Ratzinger slipped back on Tuesday as the secretive Vatican election to find the next pope whipped up gambling fever.

Three straight inconclusive votes between Monday evening and Tuesday morning by cardinals locked in the Sistine Chapel jumbled the odds in the race to the papal throne.

Ratzinger remained the frontrunner on two online betting sites to succeed Pope John Paul, but Nigeria's Francis Arinze leapfrogged him on Irish bookmaker Paddy Power's books with 7-2 after heavy betting on him from Nigeria.

• GETTING SERIOUS | 9:11 a.m. ET

An expert weighs in.

"This morning the voting got very serious. Now people are voting for their first choices and seeing how much support each cardinal has to have to become pope," said Father Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America.

"They are going to see movement from the candidates with a few votes to the candidates with more votes until someone starts getting momentum and gets up there to the two-thirds mark," he told Reuters.

• THE POLITICS OF THE VOTE | 7:57 a.m. ET

Experts say the early votes are likely to have pitted front-runner Joseph Ratzinger, standard bearer for the conservative doctrinal heirs of Pope John Paul, against former Milan Archbishop Carlo Maria Martini, who is seen as a stalking horse for the moderate camp.

Tuesday’s votes are expected to be crucial in assessing whether Ratzinger can show the strength to win the papacy.

If the German cardinal slips back he is expected to make way for another conservative. Bookmakers were already lengthening his odds on Tuesday.

However even if the powerful Ratzinger, dean of the cardinals and doctrinal watchdog for John Paul, pulls out of the race he is likely to exert influence as a “kingmaker” among the many undecided prelates.

The cardinals can hold two votes each morning and two each afternoon.

Most Vatican watchers expect the prelates from 52 countries to make their decision on Wednesday or Thursday morning.

• AN INEXACT SCIENCE | 6:46 a.m. ET

There were again a few moments of confusion among thousands of faithful gathered in St Peter's Square as gray smoke initially emerged, as it did after Monday's first vote.

"It wasn't clear. It looked white, then black, but I guess any amount of black means they have not chosen. It's disappointing," said Briton Justin Fox in the square.

The smoke comes from burning ballot papers and any notes made by cardinals. Additives determine the color although the early confusion suggested this is an inexact science in the Vatican.

• BLACK SMOKE | 5:54 a.m. ET

For the second day, cardinals have failed to elect a new pope. Black smoke is rising from the conclave, signaling that no successor to John Paul II has yet been chosen.

• CONCLAVE BY THE NUMBERS | 3:26 a.m. ET

Cardinals head into a first full day of voting for a new pope on Tuesday after an inaugural ballot failed to find a successor to John Paul II.

In the 20th century, there were eight conclaves. They lasted from 2 days (1939 and 1978) to 5 days (1922). The average length of a conclave was just over 3 days.

The number of ballots needed to elect the new pontiff ranged from a low of three in 1939 to a high of 14 in 1922. The average number of ballots needed to select a pope was just under eight.

The precise number of ballots is sometimes disputed by historians as the sole official record of each conclave is sealed in an envelope in the papal archives.

In the conclave that began on Monday, 117 cardinals are eligible to vote but two are not attending because of illness. A first ballot on Monday was inconclusive. Starting on Tuesday, cardinals will hold up to four ballots each day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

• CONFUSION IN THE SQUARE | 3:20 p.m. ET

There was some initial confusion among the thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square, as smoke started to waft from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney.

Many in the crowd of 40,000 started shouting, “It’s white.” But the cries quickly gave way to sighs of disappointment as the smoke clearly became black, signaling the cardinals had failed to elect a new pope.

• NO POPE TODAY | 2 p.m. ET

Reuters issues the following bulletin: "BLACK SMOKE FROM SISTINE CHAPEL SIGNALS NO POPE ELECTED"

• 'EVERYONE OUT' | 12:00 p.m. ET

Following the opening oath, Archbishop Piero Marini, the master of papal ceremonies, said in Latin “Extra omnes” --“Everyone out,” leaving the cardinals sitting side-by-side on two sets of double-rowed tables stretching down the chapel.

As the wooden doors of the Sistine Chapel closed, applause broke out in St. Peter’s Square where thousands of faithful had followed the opening ceremony on giant television screens.

“If you don’t believe, you think this is like politics. But if you believe, as I do, in the power of prayer, you know they will be illuminated to make the right choice,” said Annick Vandamme, who travelled from Paris to witness the occasion.

Of the eight 20th century conclaves, none took longer than five days, and two were completed on the second day.

• THE OATH | 11:07 a.m. ET

The following is the oath sworn by cardinals on Monday. The first part of the oath was read out jointly by the cardinals. The second part was being read out by each cardinal in turn, placing his hand on a book of the Gospels in the Sistine Chapel.

Both were read in Latin. The following is an official Vatican translation.

--FIRST PART

"We, the Cardinal electors present in this election of the Supreme Pontiff promise, pledge and swear, as individuals and as a group, to observe faithfully and scrupulously the prescriptions contained in the Apostolic Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, Universi Dominici Gregis, published on 22 February 1996.

"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 munus Petrinum of Pastor of the Universal Church and will not fail to affirm and defend strenuously the spiritual and temporal rights and the liberty of the Holy See.

"In a particular way, we promise and swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting; we promise and swear not to break this secret in any way, either during or after the election of the new Pontiff, unless explicit authorization is granted by the same pontiff; and never to lend support or favor to any interference, opposition or any other form of intervention, whereby secular authorities of whatever order and degree or any group of people or individuals might wish to intervene in the election of the Roman Pontiff."

--SECOND PART

"And I, N. Cardinal N., do so promise, pledge and swear. So help me God and these Holy Gospels which I touch with my hand."

• BIGGER THAN THE OSCARS? | 10:22 a.m. ET

While the cardinals huddle over who should become the next pope, Ireland’s largest bookmaker has been doing a big business that for some gamblers would mean thousands of dollars going up in smoke.

Paddy Power PLC, which often features irreverent gambling opportunities, has been taking bets for the past five years on who will succeed John Paul II. With Monday’s start to the secretive conclave, gamblers have flocked to the company’s Web site.

“It’s unbelievable. This is the biggest novelty bet we’ve ever run, much bigger than the Oscars,” said Paddy Power, a spokesman for the firm of the same name, in a telephone interview from the outskirts of Vatican City, where his grease-pencil odds board highlights the market dynamics.

Power said more than 9,000 bets have come in since John Paul’s death, including 1,500 Sunday and about 700 more by midday Monday, worth a total exceeding $195,000.

Several other Web-based bookies also are listing their own — and often very different — papal odds, including British-based Pinnacle and William Hill.

But Paddy Power offers the most options, with odds for 88 of the 115 cardinals, led by Francis Arinze of Nigeria at 3-1, while 14 cardinals at the bottom rate 125-1. A winning $1 bet at 3-1 odds would pay out $4, while 125-1 would return $126.

A few big bets have shifted the odds substantially. Arinze surged Monday from 8-1 after receiving several large bets Sunday, including one for $1,300. In second place stood Joseph Ratzinger of Germany at 9-2, the previous narrow favorite.

French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger was in third at 5-1.

• WHAT TO WATCH FOR? | 9:18 a.m. ET

The Cardinals will enter the Sistine Chapel at 10:30 a.m. ET, take their oath of secrecy and hear a meditation from a senior cardinal.

After taking their oath, the cardinals will decide whether to take a first vote Monday or wait until Tuesday morning.

• GROWING ANTICIPATION | 8:29 a.m. ET

In St. Peter’s Square, the crowd’s anticipation seems to be growing, as cardinals prepare to huddle in secret to choose the next pope.

Thousands of pilgrims have already converged on the square, gazing up at the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, where the world will get the first indication a new pontiff has been chosen.

A Mexican tourist says it’s “a great opportunity” to be “living something historic.” She plans to be in the square every day “to see what color smoke comes out.”

A young priest says the cardinals “must feel fear and anxiety.”

And Paul Campisi from Albany, N.Y., says he doesn’t think the next pope will differ too much from Pope John Paul. In his words, “You can’t change religion with the times.”

• SOLD OUT | 7:30 a.m. ET

Just five days after putting them on sale, the Vatican has sold out of special stamps to mark the period between popes.

Everyone from stamp collectors to pilgrims and tourists snapped them up at post offices around St. Peter’s Basilica.

The stamps are only valid until a new pope is chosen.

They feature the traditional Vatican image of two crossed keys, but they’re missing the papal headgear which normally appears on the stamps.

The stamps come in three denominations of Euro cents, in the colors red, blue, or green.

• ‘DICTATORSHIP OF RELATIVISM’ | 4:58 a.m. ET

In his homily Monday morning, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — a powerful Vatican official from Germany often mentioned as a leading candidate to become the next pope — spoke in unusually blunt terms against “a dictatorship of relativism” — the ideology that there are no absolute truths.

“Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism,” Ratzinger said. “Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and ‘swept along by every wind of teaching,’ looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards.

“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

• SPECIAL MASS BEGINS | 4:04 a.m. ET

A special Mass setting the stage for the conclave that will select a new pope has begun at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The 115 cardinals will celebrate morning Mass before taking an oath of secrecy and hearing a meditation from a senior cardinal. After their oath, the cardinals will decide whether they will take a vote on Monday or wait until Tuesday morning.

• EUROPEAN FLAVOR | 3:48 a.m. ET

Cardinals who will elect a new pope come from 52 countries on six continents, but Europeans continue to dominate even though Latin America has many more Roman Catholics.

Europe has an estimated 277 million Catholics, or about one quarter of the world's 1.1 billion Church members. But the 58 European cardinals in the conclave represent half of the 115 present and eligible to vote.

The number of Catholics in Latin America has grown eight-fold in the past 100 years, and they now number some 483 million — 43 percent of the world total.

But Latin American cardinals in the conclave, coming from 12 countries, number only 20, or 17 percent of those able to vote.

Among individual countries, Italy — which has provided most of the popes over the 2,000-year history of the Church — continues to have the greatest number of cardinals in the conclave with 20, the same number as all of Latin America.

• SISTINE CDs | 2:48 a.m. ET

The cardinals who will choose a new pope will be virtually cut off from the world. No television, Internet, newspapers, radio or cell phones will be allowed. But they won't be without some creature comforts.

One Italian newspaper reports that some cardinals have packed CD players and headphones along with their prayer books and snacks.

Meanwhile, the Vatican’s security squad has swept the Sistine Chapel for listening devices. And cooks, maids, elevator operators and drivers are sworn to secrecy.

• AND THE WINNER IS ... | 12:48 a.m. ET

Gamblers on Sunday pegged German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as their runaway favorite to succeed Pope John Paul II in a global sweepstakes that one bookmaker said topped the Oscars.

Ratzinger, who turned 78 on Saturday, was the solid leader on three online betting boards, with Intertops giving him the shortest odds at 2-1.

But on his heels were two Italians and a Frenchman who has apparently been helped by prophecies circulating on the Internet. Within striking distance were a Brazilian and Nigerian.

"There's enormous betting interest on the papal situation," said Graham Sharpe, spokesperson for British bookmakers William Hill.

British bookie Paddy Power said the first conclave in a quarter of a century was getting to be a bigger non-sporting betting event than the Academy Awards.

"This has been huge," Power said.

The veteran dean of cardinals who delivered the homily at John Paul's funeral, Ratzinger was a 3-1 favorite for Paddy Power and 7/2 at William Hill. The odds on the German had narrowed from 4-1 on Friday and 11-2 on Thursday.

A favorite of doctrinal conservatives, Ratzinger was expected to draw early support, but most Italian newspapers predicted he would not muster the requisite two-thirds majority.

• AN ITALIAN POPE AGAIN? | 11:30 p.m. ET

Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, and many analysts say the Italians are desperate to reclaim the papacy. But ordinary Italians on the streets say the new pope need not be one of them.

On Monday, 115 cardinals will sequester themselves inside the Sistine Chapel to choose a new leader for the Roman Catholic Church. Italy has the biggest national group, but the bloc of 20 cardinals is not big enough for them to pick a pope on their own.

“He doesn’t need to be Italian. He can be from China. He can be from Japan,” said Marisa Devito, a 53-year-old waitress at a restaurant near St. Peter’s Square. “The important thing is that he be a good pope.”

John Paul’s election in 1978 broke the centuries-long tradition of naming Italians to the post. Vatican observers have said many Italians expect to get the papacy back this time, but that does not bear out on the streets.

“For us, the best would be a Latin American pope,” said Annelo Francesco, 64, wiping a glass on his newsstand near St. Peter’s Square. “There would be more business, because more people would come from Latin America.”

Latin America has 20 voting cardinals — and nearly half the church’s followers. Some analysts believe that to recognize the importance of its Latin American flock, the church will need to name the first pope from the other side of the Atlantic.

“I’d like him to be Italian because I’m Italian, but in the end it wouldn’t make a difference,” said Roberto Brunetti, 34. “There’s no difference: Latin, African.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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