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Papal Mourning Period Ends; Cardinals Prepare to Choose Successor


Cardinals participate in a ceremony during the conclave held in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican on Oct. 14, 1978. The College of Cardinals elected Karol Wotyla, from Poland to be Pope John Paul II on Oct. 16, 1978
The Vatican's nine-day period of mourning for Pope John Paul II is ending Saturday, as cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church make final preparations for their conclave to elect a new pontiff.

The 115 cardinals who will choose John Paul II's successor will go into seclusion Monday, when their secret meetings begin. The cardinals will cast ballots daily in the Sistine Chapel - the Vatican's most cherished art treasure, with murals by Michelangelo - until they have elected a new pope.

The traditional signal to those outside the cloistered meeting that a vote has taken place is smoke from a stove that burns the cardinals' paper ballots. Black smoke means the cardinals are still divided; white smoke signifies their agreement on a new pope.

Friday workers have installed a new chimney pipe in the Sistine Chapel roof to give Vatican-watchers a clear view of the signals, part of the centuries-old traditions that surround every leadership change in the church.

Vatican staff and clergy have sworn an oath of secrecy, pledging they will never divulge any details of the papal selection process they might witness.

The coming days will be the first papal election in more than 26 years. Pope John Paul II, who was elected in 1978, died April 2.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.

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