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Chimney mounted on Sistine Chapel ahead of papal conclave

Workmen mounted a chimney on the Sistine Chapel on Saturday, ahead of the conclave to elect a new pope.

One hundred and fifteen Roman Catholic Cardinals will begin the secret balloting on Tuesday, to pick a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, holding ballots in the morning and afternoon.

People gathered in St Peter’s Square on Saturday watched the men erecting the small chimney on the roof of the chapel.

Twice a day, the ballot papers will be burned, and people gathered outside will eagerly watch to see what colour the smoke is as it billows out of the chimney. Black smoke indicates no decision; white smoke means a pope is chosen.

Benedict’s surprise abdication last month has brought most of the world’s cardinals to the Vatican for discussions on the problems facing the 1.2-billion-member Church, and to decide on the profile of the man they want to lead them.

It’s not known how long the conclave will last — the last six popes have all been elected within four days, with Benedict becoming pontiff in 2005 in barely 24 hours.

The cardinals have made clear they want another quick decision this time to make sure they can all return to their dioceses in time to lead Easter celebrations — the most important event in the Roman Catholic calendar.

The names of several possible frontrunners have been mentioned by church officials ever since Benedict’s announcement on Feb. 11 that he was quitting the papacy for health reasons after a rocky, eight-year reign.

Amongst the most mentioned are Italy’s Angelo Scola, Brazil’s Odilo Pedro Scherer and Canada’s Marc Ouellet.