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Events to follow the death of Pope John Paul II

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Interactive: Selecting a new pope

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  • Time of death: 9:37 p.m. in Rome; 2:37 p.m. Eastern; 19:37 GMT, April 2, 2005
  • Age at time of death: 84 years
  • Death announcement: Archbishop Leonardo Sandri
  • Vatican protocol: "All the procedures that were foreseen in the apostolistic consitution (universi dominici gregis) that were put forth by John Paul II on the 22 February 1996 have been launched." -- Sandri
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    John Paul II

    (CNN) -- The events to follow the death of Pope John Paul II are laid out by a script the pontiff drew up his 1996 "apostolic constitution," Universi Dominici Gregis, along with traditions set during previous turnovers.

    The first step requires the cardinals of the Catholic Church to decide on the time of two events: the funeral and the start of the conclave -- the gathering in which the cardinals will debate on and elect a new pope.

    The Universi Dominici Gregis law madates the pope's burial between the fourth and sixth day after death and after his body has been on display at St. Peter's Basilica for mourners.

    The law requires nine days of mourning, beginning on the day after the death, and the conclave cannot begin earlier than 15 days or later than 20 days after the pope's death.

    All action in the conclave must remain secret. The Vatican will not provide interim updates.

    The only indication of ballot results are to be the presence of black smoke or white smoke from a Vatican chimney. White smoke indicates the selection of a new pope, and black will be a sign that voting has not produced a new pontiff.

    Because of confusion in 1978 when the white smoke appeared somewhat gray, John Paul II subsequently ordered that the ringing of Vatican bells accompany white smoke.

    After the official announcement of the pope's death on Saturday, his body was displayed for cardinals, archbishops and other dignitaries in the Apostolic Palace.

    Here is a detailed timeline of what will happen:


  • By law, the burial takes place. Tradition calls for popes to be buried in St. Peter's Basilica.
  • DAY 10

  • By tradition, a funeral Mass occurs at St. Peter's.
  • DAY 15 (earliest possible date)

  • By law, conclave begins in the Sistine Chapel. Conclave refers to a locked section of the Vatican where the cardinals remain until they have elected a new pope. On that morning, the cardinals will celebrate the votive Mass "Pro Eligendo Papa."
  • The cardinals will determine where to hold the Mass; most likely it will be in St. Peter's Basilica.
  • In the afternoon they will start the conclave. In theory they can vote that afternoon.

    The cardinals will vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. At the end of each voting session, the cardinals will burn the ballots and send a signal to the world by the color of the smoke. Voting can go on for days.

    In the past a two-thirds majority plus one was needed for election, but Pope John Paul II changed that. Now, if there is no conclusive decision after 30 ballots, a simple majority is enough.

    For each vote, the cardinals receive ballots bearing the inscription, "Eligo in summum ponticem," Latin for "I elect as supreme pontiff."

    In order of seniority, the cardinals place their folded ballot containing their choice onto a small disc made of precious metal, then drop it inside a chalice.

    After each vote, the ballots are burned. Chemicals are added to make the smoke black or white.

    Any baptized male can be elected, though any layman selected would have to be ordained priest and bishop.

    Whoever is elected is asked whether he wants the job. The process is complete as soon as he accepts.

    If the person elected is a bishop, he becomes Bishop of Rome. If he is not, he is then ordained by the dean of the college.

    Each of the cardinals then pledges his support to the new pope. The cardinal dean asks him what name he chooses, and the eldest member of the college then announces the selection to the world.


  • The newly elected pope will come out St. Peter's Basilica main balcony.
  • A cardinal, the eldest member of the college, will say the words "Habemus Papam" -- "We have a pope" -- and will announce the pope's birth name and the name he has chosen as pope.
  • By tradition, anywhere between 30 minutes to one hour can pass between the white smoke and the appearance on the balcony. It is only when the cardinal announces the name that the public knows who was elected.
  • Installation of the new pope will likely take place days after his election. He decides where and when to hold the Mass, although it probably will be at St. Peter's.

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