Papal conclave through the Twitter looking glass

As the Papal conclave gets underway in Rome, the Twittersphere is lighting up with final farewells from some of the 115 cardinals, as well as comedians.

Michael Sohn/AP
A pilgrim kneels in St. Peter's Square during a mass at St. Peter's Basilica attended by cardinals before sequestering themselves in the Sistine Chapel for the conclave to elect the next pope at the Vatican, Tuesday.

As 115 Roman Catholic cardinals are locked inside the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the papal conclave – and the official march toward choosing the next pope – has begun. The suspense is building in St. Peter's Square – and the Twittersphere is exploding.

On Day 1, the cardinals celebrated the "Pro eligendo Romano Pontificie" Mass for the election of a pope. On Tuesday afternoon, cardinals gather in the Sistine Chapel chanting the Litany of Saints and the Latin hymn "Veni Creator," imploring saints and the Holy Spirit to help them pick a pope, reports the Associated Press.

Standing under Michelangelo's "Creation" and before his "Last Judgment," each cardinal places his hand on a book of the Gospels and pledges "with the greatest fidelity" never to reveal the details of the conclave. A meditation on the qualities needed for the next pope and the challenges ahead for the church is delivered by Maltese Cardinal Prosper Grech.

The master of liturgical celebrations then cries "Extra omnes," Latin for "all out." Everyone except the cardinals leaves and the voting can begin.

And as these solemn proceedings get underway, you can rest assured that from the bleacher seats of Twitterdom, the commentary will be fast, biting, and occasionally informative. Check out #conclave.

American comedian Bill Maher tweeted: "Papal conclave has begun! So exciting, like the Oscars all over again- we all want to know: Who will win, and who's dress will he be wearing?"

Grant Gallicho tweets: "A couple of Japanese tourists just asked us why all the media are at St. Peter's Square. "Is there a special event happening?" 

The Economist tweeted the lead of its papal story: "WANTED: man of God; good at languages; preferably under 75; extensive pastoral experience; no record of covering up clerical sex abuse, deeply spiritual and, mentally, tough as old boots."

Of course the punsters and joksters weren't the only ones on Twitter today. Some of the cardinals also tweeted farewall as their sequester began.

Cardinal Napier of South Africa's last tweet before the conclave: "May Our Father hear & answer with love & mercy all prayers & sacrifices offered for fruitful outcome. God bless!"

US cardinal Roger Mahony wrote: "Last tweet before moving to Casa Santa Martha, and mass to elect a pope."

And The Telegraph of London reports that Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed concern on her account saying: "In this electronic age, I worry some cardinals may go into iPad and Twitter withdrawal."

If you're not near a TV or aren't in Rome where you can see the white smoke, there's always a text message for those who need to know immediately. A Catholic organization has set up a website,, where folks can register to get a text or email notification when a pope has been chosen.

And the Wall Street Journal plays off the annual NCAA college basketball tournament known as March Madness, with this headline:

"March Madness, Vatican Style: Who'll Come Out of the Sweet Sistine?"

The WSJ subhead: Conclave watchers play Papal Bracketology as cardinals pick new pope.

Similarly Bloomberg News has a story on the Pope shortlist based on betting sites: "As conclave begins, betting sites have narrowed 115 cardinals down to ten contenders."

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