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White smoke? Black smoke? Confusion

Tens of thousands of people packed St. Peter’s Square from early morning on Tuesday for a second day to watch the narrow chimney atop the Sistine Chapel.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A murmur of disappointment spread through the crowd in a Babel of tongues — “nero,” “schwarz,” “black” — after cardinals on Tuesday concluded their third vote on a successor to Pope John Paul II. And then the bells began to ring.

When black smoke first rose, many in the crowd flipped open cell phones to pass on the news that there was still no new pope.

But minutes later, the church bells began ringing, and another cloud of smoke began to rise. People who had been leaving the square rushed back to the front, many frantically asking their neighbors: “Bianco?” — “White?”

It soon became clear that the smoke was indeed black, and that the bells were simply ringing the 12th hour.

“I’m sad and disappointed,” said Gilda de Palo, 80, who walked from her nearby apartment to set up in the square with a pair of binoculars. “I hope they’ll elect another pope as good as John Paul very soon. I miss him very much.”

Tens of thousands of people packed St. Peter’s Square from early morning for a second day to watch the narrow chimney atop the Sistine Chapel.

Black smoke means an unsuccessful round of balloting; white smoke — accompanied by the ringing of bells — means there is a new pontiff.

“It’s very powerful to be in the place where St. Peter was martyred and to pray to the Lord for a worthy successor,” said Brother Mateo Lethimonier, a 30-year-old monk from Argentina in a light blue habit and sandals.

He said he was praying for the 115 voting cardinals to find “the one who loves Jesus most, the one who represents the church best.”

National pride
Elsewhere in the crowd, people were less willing to leave things to the Holy Spirit.

A group of Hondurans waved their national flag in support of Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga. Brazilians chanted for Cardinal Claudio Hummes. A group of young Italians held up a banner playing off a liquor ad — “No Martini, No Party” — in support of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.

“For us, it would be ideal” if Maradiaga were elected, said Roxana Rivera, a 40-year-old housewife from the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. “If not, whoever. We’ll learn to love him just like we learned to love John Paul.”

The gathering of faithful was remarkable for its international flavor. Asians, Africans, Americans, Australians and Europeans all gathered together on the cobblestoned square to watch the stovepipe for a sign that a new pope had been chosen.

Teenagers did homework; monks leafed through the Bible. Nuns sang hymns and a priest typed intently on his laptop.

After the second confusing smoke signal in as many days, some of the pilgrims were annoyed.

“The ones making the smoke are confused. They’re putting something in there that they shouldn’t put in,” said the Rev. Javier Urquiz, 36, from San Luis, Argentina. “I’m just going to wait for the bells.”

But most said they would maintain their stakeout in the square until white smoke rises and a new pope appears in the velvet-curtained balcony atop St. Peter’s Basilica.

“It’s a historic moment for the church and for the entire world,” said John O’Brien, a 24-year-old seminarian from Lake St. Louis, Mo. “The pope serves as a moral compass. That’s why all heads are turned.”