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Papal rites, circa 2005, shed mystic traditions No more false alarms over white smoke

No more false alarms over white smoke

VATICAN CITY

is life, he brought magic and miracles back to the church, granting legitimacy to the sort of weeping statues, faith-healing saints and mystical sects that had almost disappeared from the Roman Catholic Church.

But the death of Pope John Paul II has been stripped of many such fripperies. The Vatican, which perfected its high-tech marketing skills under his leadership, has organized a funeral and succession relatively free of mystic traditions, some of which are being abandoned after centuries of use.

For one thing, the white smoke is gone. Or, rather, it has shifted into a supporting role.

Traditionally, the selection of a new pope had been announced to the world by a plume emerging from the small chimney of the Sistine Chapel, where the cardinals gather in a secret voting session that can last days.

Ballots are burned after each vote and additives colour the smoke. An indecisive vote makes black smoke; a papal election burns white.

But yesterday, a Vatican spokesman said this election will be announced mainly through the ringing of the bells of St. Peter's Basilica.

The smoke has created confusion in the past, he said, producing false alarms. "This time we plan to ring the bells to make the election of the pope clearer," Archbishop Piero Marini told the press. "This way, even journalists will know."

Like many of the Vatican's new methods, it is an adaptation of a medieval custom to the realities of modern technology.

Similarly, officials announced yesterday that the cardinals, when they gather some time in the next two weeks for the conclave to select the pope, will no longer have to stay in the Sistine Chapel.

John Paul had already done away with the conclave's strict diet of bread and water -- the cardinals can conceivably order from the many pizzerias and ice cream outlets that surround the Vatican. And he got rid of the Spartan quarters that had the cardinals sleeping on cots, having a hotel-like residence built expressly for the purpose.

It was also announced that, for the first time, the cardinals will have the run of the Vatican throughout the conclave. They will be sworn to secrecy and will be X-rayed and swept electronically for cellphones and BlackBerry devices, but no longer will they be stuck indoors.

Yesterday, it was apparent that the viewing of the Pope's body has itself been brought into the information age. The camera-equipped cellphone, which has replaced candles and rosary beads as the principal possession of the well-prepared pilgrim, has turned the viewing into a much more global event.

About half the people who entered the crypt in St. Peter's Basilica yesterday raised a phone or small digital camera and snapped a photo.

This was technically forbidden, but the Swiss Guards made no effort to stop the practice. Many of those who did not take pictures with their phones used them to describe the scene to others, turning this most intimate of events into an instant, shared experience.

Although the Vatican announced that it would shut down St. Peter's for three hours each night for cleaning, it simply didn't happen last night. Too many elderly pilgrims were suffering in line, in front of a scaffold holding hundreds of international television cameras.

Many of the new details for the funeral and conclave were chosen by John Paul himself, in a 13,000-word document he drew up in 1996.

His final document, a letter, has yet to be read. Many Catholics speculated it would provide the name of a cardinal who was appointed several years ago but not named. Under papal tradition, such vested appointments are made when the new cardinal would face persecution from his national government. In this case, many believe the mystery cardinal may be Chinese.

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