TODAY   |  March 10, 2013

Black or white smoke? Speculation as cardinals prepare for conclave

The vote for a new pope could come as soon as Tuesday morning, and all eyes are now on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, which will erupt in white or black smoke to signal if a new pope has been elected. TODAY’s Lester Holt reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> on any given day, you might see cardinals walking back and forth. you probably wouldn't recognize them or know their names but they are among the 115 that will gather and select the new pope. once they make that vote, as early as tuesday afternoon, the balance can any above st. peter's square could open and the new pope could emerge, someone you have never heard of before but who will now become the most famous person in the world. it is an election but without a campaign as we know it. the time to debate was last week when the cardinals met and talked a lot about the state of the church, its finances, scandals. likely, not much about each other.

>> i imagine it is very difficult. a lot of the cardinals know each other from other things they worked on together. there are groups that know each other well and those groups can connect with other groups that might not know each other as well.

>> but there is no vetting, what is your feeling about this and that?

>> i'm sure they talk about all the issues.

>> on tuesday, after celebrating a special mass, the voting cardinals will file into the sistine chapel , cut off from the world and modern technology and surrounded by the awe-inspiring words of masters of italian high renaissance , including michael angelo 's last judgment.

>> very sobering. they realize that they are part of a much bigger story than the latest head lilines, part of something going on for 2000 years

>>> the cardinals will cast their votes on hand-written ballotses. a two-thirds majority is required to elect a pope.

>> they have a list of all the cardinals and write down on the ballot the one they are voting for. each cardinal individually will walk through the center of the chapel up to the altar and place his ballot on top of a patent, a little plate and then put it into a challis. as he does that, he has to say a vow. he has to vow to god that he is voting for the person he thinks will be the best pope.

>> it is old fasted but it works. the ballots along with any personal notes will be burned after every vote. the word will look to this chimney to learn if a new pope is elected.

>> that's where we will be watching for smoke.

>> black smoke if they haven't decided and white smoke if we have one.

>> what will happen?

>> this will be pandemonium.

>> they will fill st. peter's square to greet the pope. many are american tourists that never imagined their itinerary would include a date with history.

>> we are catholic, so we are pretty up to date on what's happening in the church. when he decided he would be resigning, we thought, oh, no. then, we thought, great. we will be here and hopefully, they will vote somebody in by the time