Nightly News   |  March 11, 2013

Among cardinals, it’s reformers vs. old guard

There’s a growing tension between those who seek institutional tradition and those who want to move the Catholic Church forward and reenergize its ranks. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> well, the start of the conclave is now just hours away as the cardinals of the roman catholic church gather to select a new pope in a highly secret proceeding. anne thompson remains at the vatican tonight for us, following it all. anne, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. on the eve of the conclave there is no clear front runner . coalitions are forming but this is thought to be a wide open contest for the future of the catholic church . in their final meeting before the conclave, signs of collegiality hides what is a growing divide. on one side the reformers including most americans who want to clean up the vatican bureaucracy and energize the church. versus the old guard represented by the italians.

>> this is a contest between institutional maintenance and full bore evangelism.

>> reporter: battles for control make rome feel like new hampshire during primary season. sunday masses took on the campaign route with italian parishioners in the church clear cheering on their man. it is expected anglo scola of milan has the most vote bus short of what's needford election. canada's mark ouelette heads the congregation of bishops. boston's sean o'malley has charmed the locals with his humility.

>> let us praise the holy spirit to choose a new pope who will confirm us in our faith and make more visible the love.

>> reporter: today the drapes went up on the balcony where the next pope will first a appear. the sistine chapel 's chimney is ready to signal the news. these may be the most famous stoves in the world. this on the right is where the ballasts are burned. on the left is where chemicals are put in to signify if there is a pope -- white smoke -- and if there is no pope -- black smoke . the vestments for the new pope wait in small, medium and large as american seminary pray for the next leader. in the late afternoon they will go into the sistine chapel where, in complete secrecy, cut off from the world, they are expected to cast the first ballot. brian?

>> anne thompson from the vatican . thanks.