Papal conclave: Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's insider's view

Cardinals walk in procession to the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, at the beginning of the conclave that elected Benedict XVI, file pic from 18 April 2005 The 115 cardinal electors will file in solemn procession into the Sistine Chapel

When you go into the Conclave it's very strange: you're cut off, you can't bring a telephone and you are guarded.

During those days you have secret meetings with other cardinals to discuss names of possible Popes - what challenges there are for the Church and who might be most suitable to face them.

So it was in that way I came to a conclusion as to who I'd vote for - at least in the beginning.

Without giving anything away, I can say certainly there were Third World, Latin American concerns - not so much candidates but concerns - regarding poverty, and the Church on the side of the poor.

These were very much on a lot of the cardinals' minds.

The most momentous bit was processing into the Sistine Chapel, which is quite dramatic with all the cardinals dressed in scarlet.

Someone says "Extra omnes" - which means "Everyone out" - leaving just the cardinal-electors before the door closes with a thud.

I remember looking around at all of the other 114 cardinals and thinking: "One of us will be going out with a white cassock on."

'Do you accept?'

Three cardinals are elected to be scrutineers and one by one we'd go up with our voting slip and place it in a golden urn.

Master of Liturgical Celebrations Archbishop Piero Marini closes the door of the Sistine Chapel after proclaiming "Extra omnes" at the beginning of the conclave, 18 April 2005 All those not involved with the election are expelled from the Sistine Chapel before voting takes place

And that's a solemn moment, as above you is Michelangelo's Last Judgement.

It's very moving and something I'll always remember.

The votes are read out by the scrutineers after they've examined them.

When the majority was reached, after 77 or 78 votes, there was sort of a gasp all around, and then everyone clapped.

Cardinal Ratzinger had his head down. I think he must have said a prayer.

The senior cardinal went up to him and said: "Do you accept?"

So we all waited with bated breath.

I remember that moment very well and the silence that reigned. He looked very solemn, and not only lucid, but also calm.

And once he had said "Yes, I accept as the will of God" - that's it. He was Pope.

Dinner and songs
Black smoke billows from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, indicating that the cardinals gathered in the Conclave have not yet chosen a new pope, file pic from 19 April 2005 The Conclave's secrecy means outsiders are left looking for clues in the smoke

When he was asked what he'd call himself, he said Benedict - he must have thought about it beforehand. I think every cardinal had a name up his sleeve.

(I had two or three in mind, like Adrian, the only English Pope, or Gregory who sent Augustine to the UK - or, in fact, Benedict.)

Then he went out and there was a papal tailor outside with three white cassocks - large, medium or small.

After 10 minutes or so, Benedict came back in to the middle of the room and we all went up and kissed his ring.

And it doesn't matter how you voted - he's the Pope.

After the conclave, Benedict said, "I'd like you all to stay for dinner and we'll have a convivial dinner together."

And indeed we did... and in he comes, all dressed up. I often wondered what he felt, really. So anyway, we gave him a great clap, we had a very pleasant dinner with some champagne to drink a toast.

Then we tried some songs. It was very difficult when you have about 100 different languages to get one song... and then he went to rest.

Last conclave, the voting was over quickly. This one might take a bit more time.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is the archbishop emeritus of Westminster. He voted in the conclave that elected Benedict XVI as Pope in 2005 but, as he turned 80 last August, he will be too old to vote for Benedict XVI's successor.

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