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  • John Thavis

All eyes on the smokestack — even Benedict’s

After two rounds of black smoke, what does it mean?

First, it’s no surprise. After a month of evaluating papal contenders, the common wisdom in Rome was that no one entered the conclave so heavily favored that he would sweep to a two-thirds majority in three ballots.

Second, it sets the stage for the crucial two ballots on Wednesday afternoon. Here is where a leading vote-getter either puts distance between himself and the rest of the pack, or stalls short of the necessary 77 votes.

White smoke this evening would lead many people to expect one of three men to appear at the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica: Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer or Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

Another puff of black smoke would not remove these three contenders from papabile lists, but it would appear to indicate some reluctance among the cardinals in forming a consensus around any one of them.

If Thursday does not produce a pope, the chance of a surprise is even greater.

Pope Benedict watching

The ex-Pope Benedict, like the rest of the world, is following the conclave proceedings from the outside. He watched TV coverage of the first black smoke last night, according to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who had spoken with Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.

Benedict is at the papal villa at Castelgandolfo, 17 miles away from Rome. Vatican officials the retired pope won’t receive any special alert when a new pope is elected.

Today the Vatican said the ex-pope was not expected to attend the inauguration Mass of the new pontiff. That seems to confirm the impression that Benedict really plans to be “invisible” to the world.

Smoke signal recipe revealed

Today, to the applause of reporters, the Vatican spokesman actually revealed the chemical composition of the canisters used to create the black and white smoke.

The high-tech section of the two-part stove burns a “black” or “white” canister that fires five chemical doses over a seven-minute period.

For black smoke the composition is potassium perchlorate, anthracene and sulpher. The recipe for white smoke is potassium chlorate, lactose and rosin (a natural amber resin made from conifers.)

So far the system has worked pretty well, better than other years. The black smoke last night looked like an inky eruption. The smoke at midday today was dark grey to black, certainly not white.

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