With the resignation of Pope Benedict XI last month, the Catholic Church is once again bound to find its new head. Last March 8, 2013, the Holy See Press Office finally announced the date for this yet another historic event. On March 12, Tuesday, the General Congregation of the College of Cardinals has decided to begin the election of the new Pope in a process called, the conclave. While waiting for this event to happen, let us first get to know what this election is and how it works like.

What is the conclave?

The conclave or the papal conclave is a special gathering or meeting of the Cardinals coming from all over the world for one sole purpose: election of Rome’s new bishop, also known as the Pope. Because the Roman Catholics consider the pope as Saint Peter’s apostolic successor and earthly head, this election process is also one of the church’s most crucial happenings. A conclave takes place upon the death of a pope, or in this year’s case, the resignation of the pope.

What is the process of electing a pope?

Voting procedure are in three processes, namely: Pre-Scrutiny, Scrutiny, and Post-Scrutiny. During the first phase or the Pre-Scrutiny Phase, the ballots that the Cardinals will fill in are prepared and distributed; in the Scrutiny Phase, the ballots are then collected back and counted; finally, in the Post-Scrutiny Phase, the ballots are counted, verified then burned. To be elected as pope, a candidate (Cardinal) has to gain two-thirds those who actually voted. If less than two-thirds of the votes were cast to the same person, it is considered “no election”. However, the ballots are still burned. When a cardinal gets two-thirds of the votes, he is then led to the Cardinal Dean where he will be asked of his acceptance of the role and the name he wished to be called.

The Chimney

Installing a chimney in the Sistine Chapel is another important part in the conclave. This chimney is what people inside the channel will use to communicate to the people outside about the developments inside – whether a new pope has been elected or not. Black smoke coming out of the chimney means that votes have been cast but no one is elected yet. On the other hand, a white smoke coming out of the chimney signals the election of the new pope, which is then followed by the ringing of the bell in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The conclave on Tuesday will be another historical moment not only for the Roman Catholics from all over the world but for everyone as well considering the huge influence of the religion in the world.