Cardinals gather to begin secret voting for successor to Pope Benedict

VATICAN CITY, Italy – A conclave to elect the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church begins today, with Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet among those in the running to be the new pontiff.

Ouellet and 114 other cardinals will seal themselves into the ornate Sistine Chapel to pick a successor to Pope Benedict, who retired last month after eight years in office.

Ouellet is a Quebec native who holds a powerful post in the Vatican where he plays a key role in the selection of bishops and archbishops around the world.

The centuries-old process for choosing a new pope is veiled in secrecy and the chapel has been swept for listening devices by Vatican security.

The election of the new pope will be signalled by a puff of white smoke from a special chimney installed on the roof of the Vatican.

Black smoke indicates no decision has been reached.

Several rounds of balloting could be held and the conclave will go on until a new pontiff is chosen.

Auravelia Colomer, 27, cashed in all her annual vacation time to make the pilgrimage to Italy. The Toronto public relations consultant was originally meant to arrive in Rome for Holy Week but set her sights on witnessing the new pope’s election after the date of the conclave was announced.

“I thought I needed to be there, it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s going to be historic,” said Colomer, who waited on standby over the weekend before finally securing a flight for Tuesday night.

She’s hoping to get there before the decision is made and plans to “run over to St. Peter’s Square and camp out until I see the smoke.”

Colomer said it’s long been her dream to be present for such a pivotal moment for the Catholic faith, but admits “the possibility of a Canadian pope is also a driving factor.”

Cardinals held a final debate on Monday on the type of man best suited for the job.

Some wonder whether Catholics need a solid manager to address the Vatican bureaucracy and controversies over scandals and alleged corruption or a more inspirational figure to bring more people into the church.

Some possible candidates are Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer.