Vatican watchers say there is no clear favourite in the conclave that gets underway in Rome tonight but three names have emerged as frontrunners - Odilo Scherer, the charismatic archbishop of Sao Paulo; Italian conservative Angelo Scola, head of the powerful Milan archdiocese; and Marc Ouellet, a Canadian who holds a senior Vatican position, reports AFP in The Australian.
"We are all waiting for the upcoming conclave, not only the faithful of the Catholic Church but the whole world is waiting," Cardinal Ouellet said in a homily in Rome.
The 115 cardinals who will start meeting today to elect the next pope are lodging at Domus Sanctae Marthae, a residence near the Sistine Chapel where they will be casting their votes.
The spartan atmosphere is designed for quiet reflection, but conditions have improved for the "princes of the church", who can now boast en-suite bathrooms.
Mealtimes will be spartan as well. The diet of soups, boiled vegetables, pasta and roasts is more like hospital fare than that of a Roman trattoria.
Most of the cardinals will have suites with a separate room for a desk and a telephone - an internal one only, as no communication with the outside world will be allowed throughout the conclave, which Vatican watchers expect to last several days. The cardinals will be sworn to secrecy on pain of ex-communication throughout the conclave.
Telephones, smart phones and other electronic devices will be jammed within the house as well as along the 500m route to the Sistine Chapel. Both the residence and the chapel are to be thoroughly swept for bugs.
A full day of voting includes two ballots in the morning, local time, and two in the afternoon, until two-thirds of the cardinals rally around one man.
Cardinals hold talks before Sistine Chapel shut-in (Australian)
Scola, Scherer and Ouellet are frontrunners (Vatican Insider)