(VATICAN CITY) Today’s Vatican Dispatch has a unique start to it.  As I hinted in my Green Room post earlier, the Vatican press office decided to allow more journalists than previously considered to tour the nearly-complete additions to the Sistine Chapel for the papal conclave, including the stove system that will send out either black smoke for a vote that fails to select a Pope, or the white smoke that the pilgrims from around the world are already gathering to see.  I got in with one of the last groups to be allowed into the Sistine Chapel, and even worked in the start of the show before being asked (nicely) to stop.  Afterward, I picked up again outside of St. Peter’s Basilica:

More than one in our group had attached microphones and started narrating into video cameras, but all of us were asked to stop and just shoot the video.  No one had mentioned that prohibition beforehand, but as I say in the video, it’s a reasonable request made nicely, so I’m happy to get what I got.  The noise in the background came from the conversations taking place among the media as well as from workers trying to finish off the last of the work before Tuesday.

By the way, the abrupt end of this video was due to a technical error on my part while I was shooting it, not any kind of issue with officials.

In other news, the press conference gave some interesting tidbits about the ongoing congregation of cardinals.  This is more or less verbatim from my notes:

  • 145 cardinals were present today; 15 spoke “gave their interventions” last night (gave a speech), and 17 this morning.  Overall, 133 interventions have taken place (some have spoken twice) on topics including “improving the performance of the Curia,” the Church in the world, and expectations of the new Pope.
  • The hours of smoke — Smoke does not appear after each ballot.  Should be one around noon, and the other in the evening around 7 pm.  If it’s white, it will be between 10:3-11:30 or 5-6 pm. The bells of St Peter’s Square will ring when a new Pope has been elected.  The new Pope will appear in about 45 minutes after the smoke and the bells.  “This is not like a Swiss watch.  A little suspense is good for all of us.”
  • The procession of cardinals into the conclave begins at 4:30 in the afternoon of the 12th, from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel.  The rest is in a handout in the media center.  It will last for one hour; when the doors close, the camera will be cut off, and the shot will probably track to St. Peter’s Square.

A couple of days ago, the media was told that cardinals would not be available for public comment, which caused quite a stir.  Today, the press office said that the cardinals had not been silenced, and they may use their time tomorrow to address the peoples of their nations in conjunction with the celebration of Mass in their titular churches.  Each cardinal has an assigned church in Rome, and when they visit the city, they often celebrate Mass in these churches.

Not much activity will take place tomorrow, so I will not have a dispatch.  Instead, I’ll bring you interviews with George Weigel and Chris Ferrara, and break other news if it happens.

Update: I don’t want anyone to miss out on the beauty of the Sistine Chapel.  I’ve uploaded them to Flickr and have them arranged in a slide show:

The stairs are works of art in themselves. The entire place is simply breathtaking.