(CNN Spanish) — In the Vatican, full legislative, judicial, and executive authority resides in the pope. And for centuries, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church have been chosen in private meetings known as conclaves.
Technically, any Roman Catholic man can be elected pope. But since 1379, each pope has been selected from the College of Cardinals, the group that casts the votes in the conclave.
Many of the cardinals are bishops and archbishops appointed by the pope to help with religious matters. Some work in the Vatican, but most are scattered around the world and run a diocese or archdiocese.
When it’s time to vote for a new pope, all cardinals under the age of 80 travel to Rome to participate.
Inside the Sistine Chapel, paper ballots are handed out to each cardinal, who writes the name of their chosen candidate below the words “Eligo in Summun Pontificem” (Latin for “I choose as High Pontiff”). Cardinals cannot vote for themselves.
When they are finished, each cardinal, in order of seniority, walks to an altar to ceremoniously place their folded ballot in a chalice. The votes are then counted and the result read to the cardinals.
If a cardinal has received two thirds of the votes, he becomes the new pontiff.
The revelation of a new pope
We can’t get into the Sistine Chapel, but we’ll know if there’s a new pope just by looking at the smoke billowing from the Vatican rooftop.
The ballots are burned after the voting, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. If a pope has not been elected, the ballots will be burned along with a chemical that turns the smoke black.
However, if the smoke is white, the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics have a new church leader.
Traditionally, between 30 and 60 minutes after the white smoke, the new pope will appear on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Basilica. Peter’s Square. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, if he himself is not elected pope, will announce the words “Habemus Papam” (Latin for “We have a pope”) and introduce the new pope by his chosen papal name.
The new pope will then speak briefly and say a prayer. His formal appointment will take place days after his election. The last two popes have been inaugurated in the Cathedral of Saint Peter.
How many popes has the Catholic Church had?
The first pope was Saint Peter who, according to ACI Prensa, received the Supreme Pontifical Power from Jesus, instituted the first ecclesiastical order and the Our Father prayer. And as of the end of 2022, the Vatican has had 266 popes, with Pope Francis being the last selected to fill the position.
Below you can find the names of the first and last popes in history:
The first 10:
- Saint Peter (Simon Bar Jona)
- San Lino, Tuscany (67-76)
- Saint Anacletus (Cletus), Rome (76-88)
- Saint Clement I (88-97)
- Saint Evaristo, Greece (97-105)
- Saint Alexander I, Rome (105-115)
- Saint Sixtus I, Rome (115-125)
- Saint Telesphorus, Greece (125-136)
- Saint Iginus, Greece (136-140)
- Saint Pius I, Aquileia (140-155)
- Saint Pius X (1903-1914)
- Benedict XV (1914-1922)
- Pius XI (1922- 1939)
- Pius XII (1939-1958)
- John XXIII (1959-1963)
- Paul VI (1963-1978)
- John Paul I (1978)
- John Paul II (Poland) (1978-2005)
- Benedict XVI (Germany) (2005-2013)
- Francisco (Argentina) (2013- present)
Look at the complete list at ACI Press.