Black smoke rose from above the Sistine Chapel for a second day on Wednesday after a secret conclave of cardinals held two more inconclusive votes for a new pope to lead the troubled Church.
The 115 cardinal electors entered the conclave in the Sistine’s Renaissance splendor on Tuesday and held their first inconclusive ballot that evening.
Black smoke emerged again on Wednesday after the cardinals held two morning ballots. Before returning to the conclave they had prayed for inspiration from God to choose a leader who can lead the Church out of scandal and internal strife.
A visibly moved Pope Benedict tried to assure his worldwide flock on Wednesday over his stunning decision to become the first pontiff in centuries to resign, saying he was confident that it would not hurt the Church.
The Vatican, meanwhile, announced that a conclave to elect his successor would start sometime between March 15 and March 20, in keeping with Church rules about the timing of such gatherings after the papal see becomes vacant.
“Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future pope,” he said in unscripted remarks at the start of his weekly general audience, his first public appearance since his shock decision on Monday that he will step down on February 28.
It was the first time Benedict, 85, who will retire to a convent inside the Vatican, exchanging the splendor of his 16th century Apostolic Palace for a sober modern residence, had uttered the words “future pope” in public.
Bookmakers see three-cardinal race for next Pope
British and Irish bookmakers ranked Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze, Peter Turkson of Ghana and Canadian Marc Ouellet on Monday as favorites to lead the Roman Catholic Church, setting odds swiftly after Pope Benedict’s shock resignation.
William Hill, Britain’s largest bookmaker, offered odds of 3/1 against for Arinze, or a probability of 25 percent, while Ouellet and Turkson were priced at 7/2 against, meaning successful punters would win seven pounds for every two staked.
Irish bookmaker Paddy Power had the same three cardinals as leading contenders but placed Ouellet as favorite ahead of the two Africans. Britain’s Ladbrokes narrowly made Turkson its initial frontrunner.
More on the Pope’s resignation: Pope’s brother said he knew of resignation
(Correction: This post originally had an incorrect photo of the three cardinals cited by bookmakers as top contenders to be the next Pope)
Russian police are searching for more members of the Pussy Riot punk rock band, a spokeswoman said, signaling further pressure on the group despite an international outcry over jail terms for three women who protested in a church against Vladimir Putin.
The Russian president’s critics condemned the court proceeding that yielded the two-year prison sentences on Friday as part of a clampdown on a protest movement and reminiscent of show trials of dissidents in the Soviet era.
Police said on Monday they were searching for other members of the group over the February protest at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, but had not yet identified the suspects.
Police did not say how many people they were looking for, nor whether they faced arrest and charges or whether they were just wanted for questioning.