By WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press Writer  VATICAN CITY – Cardinals from six continents made their solemn procession to the Sistine Chapel on Monday to convene the new millennium’s first conclave

Ratzinger’s admonition read, in part: “In a particular way, we promise and swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting; we promise and swear not to break this secret in any way …”

The cardinals were to hear a meditation before deciding whether to take their first vote Monday or wait until Tuesday.

Ratzinger — a powerful Vatican official often mentioned as a leading papal candidate — recited a prayer at the palace before the cardinals chanted the Litany of the Saints while making the short walk to the chapel. The cardinals were led by altar servers carrying two long, lit white candles and a metal crucifix.

In a procession carried live on Italian television, they walked past a pair of Swiss Guards in red plumed hats standing at attention at the entrance to the chapel and took two steps into the voting area, where electronic jamming devices were installed to thwart any eavesdropping in an unprecedented effort to secure the proceedings.

Ratzinger entered last — an honor bestowed upon the dean of the College of Cardinals.

Before the procession, Ratzinger asked for prayers from the church that a pastor fit to lead all of Christ’s flock would be elected.

“May the Lord lead our steps on the path of truth, so that through the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, and of all the saints, we may always do that which is pleasing to him,” he said in Latin.

With Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” fresco as a backdrop behind the altar, depicting a muscular Jesus amid masses of people ascending to heaven and falling to hell, the cardinals took their assigned places behind their name placards, with a copy of the conclave ritual on their desks.

They then placed their red, three-cornered square birettas on the tables, leaving only their crimson skullcaps on their heads.

“I slept well, and now my ideas are clear,” French Cardinal Paul Poupard said as he headed into a special pre-conclave Mass held earlier Monday at St. Peter’s Basilica. “I have realized the seriousness of the election. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.”

In his homily at the Mass, where Ratzinger presided from the main altar usually reserved for a pope, he drew applause from fellow cardinals as he asked God to give the church a “a pastor according to his own heart, a pastor who guides us to knowledge in Christ, to his love and to true joy.”

But in unusually blunt terms, he made clear what type of pastor that should be: one who should not allow “a dictatorship of relativism” — the ideology that there are no absolute truths — to take deeper root.

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists converged on St. Peter’s Square to watch the chapel chimney for the white smoke that ultimately will tell the world that the church’s 265th pontiff has been elected. The famous stove in the chapel also will billow black smoke to signal any inconclusive session of voting.

“I feel really cool being here,” said Kathy Mullen, 49, a writer from Beverly, Mass., among the faithful who lined up in dazzling sunshine to pass through metal detectors on their way into the basilica.


“The last pope was very special, so I don’t know how they’re going to pick another one. I will be here in the square because it’s so historic.”

Although the conclave could last for days, a pope could be chosen as early as Monday afternoon if the prelates opt to begin casting ballots after settling into the chapel.

If they decide to hold off a day, they will hold four rounds of voting — two in the morning, two in the afternoon — on Tuesday and every day until a candidate gets two-thirds support: 77 votes. If they remain deadlocked late in the second week of voting, they can vote to change the rules so a winner can be elected with a simple majority: 58 votes.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said smoke from burned ballot papers enhanced by special chemicals likely could be seen at about noon (6 a.m. EDT) and about 7 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT) each day of voting by the cardinal electors, all of whom are under age 80. At some point soon after the new pope is chosen, the Vatican also will ring bells.

The cardinals spent their first night in the super-secure Domus Sanctae Marthae, a $20 million hotel that John Paul II had constructed inside Vatican City so they could rest in comfort in private rooms between voting sessions.

Conspicuously missing from their quarters were cell phones, newspapers, radios, TVs and Internet connections — all banned in new rules laid down by John Paul II to minimize the chances of news influencing their secret deliberations and to prevent leaks to the outside world. The Vatican’s security squad swept the chapel for listening devices, and cooks, maids, elevator operators and drivers were sworn to secrecy, with excommunication the punishment for any indiscretions.

No conclave in the past century has lasted more than five days, and the election that made Karol Wojtyla pope in October 1978 took eight ballots over three days. He died April 2 at 84 after a pontificate that lasted more than 26 years, history’s third-longest papacy.

Cardinals faced a choice that boiled down to two options: an older, skilled administrator who could serve as a “transitional” pope while the church absorbs John Paul’s legacy, or a younger dynamic pastor and communicator — perhaps from Latin America or elsewhere in the developing world where the church is growing — who could build on the late pontiff’s popularity over a quarter-century of globe-trotting.

The issues sure to figure prominently in the conclave include containing the priest sex-abuse scandals that have cost the church millions in settlements in the United States; coping with a chronic shortage of priests and nuns in the West; halting the stream of people leaving a church whose teachings they no longer find relevant; and improving dialogue with the Islamic world.

“We are praying together with the church for everything to get better,” said Sister Annonciata, 42, a Rwandan nun from the Little Sisters of Jesus order who was on the square Monday.


Associated Press reporters Nicole Winfield, Daniela Petroff and Niko Price contributed to this report.