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Pope Coverage » International

When to watch for the white smoke

Your detailed guide so you don't miss it

When to watch for the white smoke
Jimmy Akin International

March 12, 2013

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Many people across the world are wondering when we should be watching the chimney above the Sistine Chapel to see the smoke that will tell us whether a new pope has been elected.

Here is a quick guide to when to watch and what to expect . . .

The Color of the Smoke

After casting ballots, the cardinals burn them, and this is what produces the smoke. They also burn other things–straw or chemicals–to change the color of the smoke, though precisely what they’re burning this time is a bit of a mystery.

As most people know, it is supposed to be black if there is no new pope but it is supposed to be white if there is.

In practice, there have been troubles with the color of the smoke being unclear in the past.

Sometimes it starts off one color and then seems to change color. This can happen when the things the cardinals are burning don’t ignite at the same time.

Other times, the smoke seems too grey to say that it’s white or black.

To help clear up matters, they’re suppose to also start ringing the bells at St. Peter’s when a new pope is elected, but there has been confusion in the past with the bells, since they are ordinarily rung at several times of day.

Hopefully, there won’t be such confusion this time, but here’s when to watch . . .

Regularly Scheduled Times

On Tuesday the cardinals are scheduled to have only one round of voting, which is expected to end around 7:00 p.m., Rome time.

It might be somewhat earlier or later when the smoke appears, and it will almost certainly be black, since the first ballot almost never results in a papal election.

For the next few days, the cardinals are scheduled to have four votes–two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

They will burn the ballots after each pair of ballots.

This means that the cardinals will be burning the ballots after each odd numbered ballot (that is, after ballot #1 on day 1, after ballots #3 and #5 on day 2, and ballots #7 and #9 on day 3).

The first time they burn them should be around 12:00 p.m. (i.e., noon), Rome time.

The second time will be around 7:00 p.m., Rome time.

As before, the exact time may be slightly earlier or later.

The longer the conclave goes on, the higher the likelihood that the smoke will be white.

Unscheduled Times

If the cardinals elect a cardinal after an even numbered ballot (e.g., ballot #2 or #4 on day 2 or ballot #6 or #8 on day 3) then they will burn the ballots immediately.

As a result, the smoke at such an unscheduled burning will be white–announcing the election that has just happened.

Each round of balloting takes about an hour, so if they elect a pope on an even numbered ballot, the smoke would appear around an hour earlier than expected–e.g., around 11:00 a.m. or 6 p.m., Rome time.

As before, the exact time might be earlier or later.

The Rome Schedule

Here is a list of when to watch for the smoke if you are in Rome (all times local):

  • Morning even numbered ballot: 11:00 a.m. (uncheduled; indicates papal election)
  • Morning odd numbered ballot: 12:00 a.m. (scheduled; may be black or white smoke)
  • Evening even numbered ballot: 6:00 p.m. (uncheduled; indicates papal election)
  • Evening odd numbered ballot: 7:00 p.m. (scheduled; may be black or white smoke)

Your Time Zone

Rome has not yet gone on the Italian equivalent of Daylight Savings Time, so they are presently 5 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time and 8 hours ahead of U.S. Pacific Time.

Here is a list of the approximate times to watch for the smoke to appear in the different U.S. time zones (times in parentheses indicate unscheduled burnings):

  • Eastern Time: (6:00 a.m.) — 7:00 a.m. — (1:00 p.m.) — 2:00 p.m.
  • Central Time: (5:00 a.m.) — 6:00 a.m. — (12:00 p.m.) — 1:00 p.m.
  • Mountain Time: (4:00 a.m.) — 5:00 a.m. — (11:00 a.m.) — 12:00 p.m.
  • Pacific Time: (3:00 a.m.) — 4:00 a.m. — (10:00 a.m.) — 11:00 a.m.

Original story: When to watch for the white smoke


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