VATICAN CITY? In Vatican City, 115 cardinals are holding their final meetings before gathering Tuesday to begin the conclave to elect a new pope.
The cardinals filed into the Vatican Monday to meet one last time to meet as group before they are locked into the code of silence and secrecy that is the conclave. The mood was summed up in a single remark by Canadian Cardinal Thomas Collins: "Divisions within? Surely you jest."
Click here to follow Chris Nagus' coverage of the conclave in Rome
The list of those among them who are "papabili" -- possible popes -- is the longest Vatican watchers can remember, with no clear favorites emerging.
With 11 cardinals, the Americans are the biggest voting bloc after the Italians, who have 28.
On Sunday, many of the cardinals preached at their titular Roman churches. Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who preached from St. Peter in Chains, said, "the most important thing all of us can do right now is simply pray for God's blessing and the gift of the spirit on all the cardinals as we go into the conclave."The Sistine Chapel is in the final stages of preparation, including the all-important two stoves, one to burn the ballots after each round of voting and a second to make smoke -- black to signify no one has the required two thirds majority, white to announce a new pope.
The 266th pope faces massive challenges: the Catholic Church is losing believers to evangelical Protestants; it cannot shake off the seemingly endless scandal over clerical sex abuse; and has a crisis in the curia, the church's management in Rome.
The three favorites to take on the job as chosen by eight Vatican experts from the Italian paper Corriere della Sera were Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil, and Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy.
On Monday, red curtains were put in place behind the balcony where the new pope will be introduced to the world.
Greg Burke, senior communications adviser with the Vatican Secretariat of State, compared the debates within the church to the military. "There are the guys near the flagpole and the guys out in the field. The guys in the field often think they know better how things are going," he explained. "There's often tension there, there's no doubt about that. I think part of this here has perhaps been exaggerated and that makes it as if there are two big blocs, Rome and the rest of the world. If that's how it really is, the rest of the world is going to win."
"It comes to transparency, accountability, responsibility essentially, but I always come back to the terms, like all politics is local, all church is local. This is of interest because we're electing a pope, but for 95 percent of the Catholics out there, what they're interested in is how their parish and school works."