Cardinals who failed to elect a new pope in their first vote of a historic papal conclave gathered for two more tries Tuesday morning in a secret and sacred quest to choose a new leader for the Roman Catholic Church.
Black smoke that initially looked light enough to throw even Vatican Radio analysts off-guard poured from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel on Monday evening, disappointing a crowd of 40,000 pilgrims packing St. Peter's Square for a sign that the 115 voting cardinals had settled on a successor to Pope John Paul II.
White smoke - and the pealing of bells shortly afterward - eventually will tell the world that the church's 265th pontiff has been chosen to succeed John Paul, who died April 2 at age 84.
"We thought it was white. Then it went black. I had a feeling of exhilaration followed by disappointment," said Harold Reeves, a 35-year-old theology student from Washington, D.C.
After celebrating morning Mass in their high-security Vatican hotel, the crimson-robed cardinals from six continents and 52 countries again sequestered themselves inside the chapel for the first of two rounds of voting Tuesday morning.
Smoke - black or white - will be expected around noon (1000GMT) to confirm the outcome. If black smoke signals another inconclusive voting session, the cardinals will break for lunch and reconvene at 4 p.m. (1400GMT) for two afternoon rounds, with a new plume of smoke expected by 7 p.m. (1700GMT).
A quick decision in the first round of voting on Monday would have been a surprise. The cardinals have a staggering range of issues to juggle as they choose the first new pope of the 21st century - fallout from priest sex-abuse scandals, chronic shortages of priests and nuns, as well as calls for sharper activism against poverty and easing the ban on condoms to help combat AIDS.
The next pontiff also must maintain the global ministry of John Paul, who took 104 international trips in his more than 26-year papacy.
"Keep praying for the new pope," said 82-year-old Cardinal Luis Aponte Martinez of Puerto Rico, who was too old to join the conclave, open only to cardinals under 80 years old.
It was the first time in more than a generation that crowds had stared at the chimney for the famous smoke and word of a new pope. In that time, the church has been pulled in two directions: a spiritual renaissance under John Paul, but battered by scandals and a flock pressing for less rigid teachings.
In chilly St. Peter's Square, thoughts at dusk were only on the next pontiff to appear under the crimson drapes at the basilica's central window.
As the crowd peered up at the slim pipe of the chimney, lines of television cameras were all pointed at the same angle. Pilgrims trained their cell phone cameras at the chapel roof. Nuns sat in circles, praying and thumbing through rosaries.
"This is history," said Hernan Aracena, 19, wrapped in a Venezuelan flag. "As time goes by, this will be one of those moments where you say, `I was there.'"
Before the conclave began, one of the possible candidates - German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - tried to set a tone of urgency, warning cardinals, bishops and others gathered in St. Peter's Basilica for a Mass that the church must stay true to itself.
"We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires," said Ratzinger, 78, who has been the Vatican's chief overseer of doctrine since 1981.
"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism," he said, making clear that he disagrees with that view.
About five hours later, the electors walked in a procession into the Sistine Chapel. They bowed before the altar, and took their places.
For 30 minutes, each walked up and placed his right hand - with the special gold ring of the cardinals - on the Holy Book and again pledged never to reveal what will occur in the conclave. The penalty is severe: excommunication.
Under conclave rules, four rounds of voting will be held per day beginning Tuesday - two in the morning, two in the afternoon - until a prelate gets two-thirds support: 77 votes. If they remain deadlocked late in the second week of voting, they can go to a simple majority: 58 votes.
No conclave in the past century has lasted more than five days, and the election that elevated Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla into the papacy as John Paul II in October 1978 took eight ballots over three days.
WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press Writer
In a weary world of endless US military interventions, sanctions, trade tariffs and chaos, let’s pause and take stock of the shining house on the hill