With Boston’s O’Malley seen as contender, Vatican conclave begins today to select new pope

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Cardinals are gathering at the Vatican to elect a successor to Benedict XVI.

VATICAN CITY — The first votes are expected to be cast today by the 115 cardinals who are convening in the Sistine Chapel to select a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

Boston’s Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley will be among those attending — and he is considered one of the contenders for the job.

The process, known as a conclave, is shrouded in mystery and tradition, and defined by periods of prayerful introspection.

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The selection of a new pope will be heralded by a plume of white smoke ushering from a stovepipe installed specifically for that purpose.

The voting process could go on for days. But the first vote could most likely be today between 11:45 a.m. and 3 p.m. (4:45 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Rome). A two-thirds majority, or 77 votes, is needed to be elected. If the vote does not yield a new pope, black smoke will come out of the stovepipe and cardinals will return Wednesday to resume deliberations.

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