TODAY | March 11, 2013
>>> the cardinals are gathering for the final time before the start of the conclave tuesday morning. nbc's lester holt is there. good morning to you.
>> matt, good morning. this was the final chance for the cardinals to get together to talk about the issues of the churches spiritual as well as managerial. there were a lot of metaphors to describe thisprocess, greg burke says "life is like baseball, and tomorrow is opening day in vatican city " and it doesn't know how many innings it will take, continuing the metaphor. let us show you a live picture of the papal balance conye pip the scarlet drapes were hung. it's from there a new pope as soon as tomorrow will emerge to greet this city and the world. this morning, cardinals are reflecting over the task at hand after a weekend spent celebrating mass at their assigned parishes all across rome. tomorrow, it all begins with a special mass together, the 115 voting cardinals gathered here at the vatican will then file into the sistine chapel surrounded by masters of italian renaissance to begin the conclave. cut off from the world and modern technology, they will vote to choose which one among them will become pope, head of the catholic church .
>> they have a list of all the cardinals in front of them and then they write down on the ballot the one they're voting for, and each cardinal individually will walk through the center of the chapel up to the altar and place his ballot on top of a little plate and as he does that, he has to say a vow, he has to vow to god he's voting for the person he thinks will be the best pope.
>> reporter: it's old-fashioned but it works, no hanging chads.
>> no hanging chads.
>> reporter: a two-thirds majority is required to elect the pope. to be sure the votes are recorded accurately, three people will read each vote out loud and the results will be recorded. afterwards the ballots, along with any personal notes are burned and the world will be focused on this chimney to learn if a new pope has been elected and that chimney is where we'll be watching for smoke.
>> black smoke if they haven't decided yet and white smoke if they have one.
>> reporter: what will happen when we see white smoke?
>> pandemonium. people will come out of every corner and stream into the plaza.
>> reporter: many american tourists, the curious and faithful hoping to visit the sistine chapel , never imagining of their itinerary might be to meet a new elected pope.
>> we're catholic so hopefully they'll vote somebody in by the time we're here.
>> reporter: while this is a secretive process the cardinals will not be alone. they'll have auxiliary staff members sworn in later today, medical staff and some assistants who will be present in the sistine chapel during the voting.
>> lester holt a picturesque day in rome thank you.