"They definitely got the color right this time," agreed the Rev. Andrew Gawrych, an American priest based in Rome, referring to the confusion over the smoke during the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
That was thanks to special smoke flares - akin to those used in soccer matches or protests - lit in the chapel ovens to make the burned ballots black, the sign that cardinals must come back for another day of voting Wednesday.
Tuesday's drama unfolded against the backdrop of the turmoil unleashed by Benedict's surprise resignation and the exposure of deep divisions among cardinals grappling with whether they need a manager to clean up the Vatican's dysfunctional bureaucracy or a pastor who can inspire Catholics at a time of waning faith and growing secularism.
Surrounded by Michelangelo's imposing frescoes portraying the beginning and the end of the world, cardinals locked themselves into the Sistine Chapel after a final appeal for unity by their dean and set about the business of electing the 266th pope.
The 115 scarlet-robed prelates chanted the Litany of Saints, the sounds of the Gregorian chant echoing through the soaring hall as, walking two-by-two, they implored the saints to guide their voting. They then took an oath of secrecy, first collectively and then individually, as each placed his right hand on the Gospel and intoned the words in Latin accented by their native languages - English, German, French, Italian, Arabic, and so on.
Then the master of liturgical ceremonies intoned the words Extra omnes - "everyone out" - and dozens of prelates and Vatican officials departed as the chapel's heavy, ornately carved wooden doors swung shut.
The cardinals then proceeded with the carefully choreographed vote, each writing his choice on a piece of paper, then folding it and tipping it into an urn, to be counted by hand by three "scrutineers" who read out the results, one by one.
With no cardinal winning the required 77 votes on the first ballot, the cardinals returned to the Vatican hotel for a simple dinner of pasta with tomato sauce, soup, and vegetables before another day of voting Wednesday.
Benedict's surprise resignation has thrown the church into turmoil and exposed deep divisions between Vatican-based cardinals and those in the field who have complained about Rome's inefficiencies and indifference to their needs.
The leading contenders for pope have fallen into two camps, with Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, seen as favored by those hoping to shake up the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer favored by Vatican-based insiders who have defended the status quo.
Other names include Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican's powerful office for bishops, and U.S. Cardinals Timothy Dolan, the exuberant archbishop of New York, and Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston.
For more than a week, the cardinals have met privately to try to figure out who among them has the stuff to be pope and what his priorities should be. But they ended the debate with questions still unanswered and many cardinals predicting a drawn-out election that will further expose the church's divisions.
The conclave proceeds in silence, with no formal debate, behind closed doors.
During discussions before the conclave, Vatican-based cardinals defended their administration against complaints that they have been unresponsive to diocesan needs, according to leaks of the proceedings in the Italian media.
In his final radio address Tuesday before being sequestered, Dolan said a certain calm had taken hold, as if "this gentle Roman rain is a sign of the grace of the Holy Spirit coming upon us."
"And there's a sense of resignation and conformity with God's plan. It's magnificent," he said during his regular radio program on SiriusXM's Catholic Channel.
Outside, the faithful gathered to await the outcome, with groups of nuns singing and playing the guitar, cheering the cardinals on.
"I don't expect any quick fixes. There will always be problems," said Sister Manaoag, a nun from the Philippines. "We have to not get stuck with seeing things like factions and problems, but see beyond that. What does God want? This is something we sometimes forget."
Other pilgrims acknowledged the challenges facing the church.
"It's a moment of crisis for the church, so we have to show support of the new pope," said Veronica Herrera, a real estate agent from Mexico who traveled to Rome for the conclave with her husband and daughter.
Yet the mood was not entirely somber. In a bizarre twist, basketball star Dennis Rodman promised to be in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday in a makeshift popemobile as he campaigns for Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana to become the first black pope.
Conclaves Through the Ages
Longest conclave: In 1268, a conclave began that lasted nearly three years - 33 months to be exact. Pope Gregory X was elected pope, but not before residents of Viterbo, north of Rome, tore the roof off the building where the cardinals were staying and restricted their meals to bread and water to make them hurry up. Hoping to avoid a repeat, Gregory decreed in 1274 that cardinals would get only one meal a day if the conclave stretched beyond three days, and served bread, water, and wine if it went beyond eight.
Shortest conclave: Before 1274, there were times when a pope was elected the same day as the death of his predecessor. After that, however, the church decided to wait at least 10 days before the first vote; later that was stretched to 15 days to give all cardinals time to get to Rome. The quickest conclave observing the 10-day-wait rule appears to have been the 1503 election of Julius II, who was elected in just a few hours, according to Vatican historian Ambrogio Piazzoni.
Youngest and oldest popes elected: John XII was just 18
when he was elected in 955. The oldest popes were Celestine III (elected in 1191) and Celestine V (elected in 1294), who
were both nearly 85. Benedict XVI was 78 when he was
elected in 2005.
Fun facts: The last time a pope was elected who wasn't a cardinal was Urban VI in 1378 - he was a monk and archbishop of Bari. Pope Pius XII, who was pope during World War II, left a document informing the College of Cardinals that they should hold a conclave and elect a new pope if he were taken prisoner. While the Italians have had a stranglehold on the papacy over centuries, there have been many exceptions aside from John Paul II (Polish in 1978) and Benedict XVI (German in 2005). Alexander VI, elected in 1492, was Spanish; Gregory III, elected in 731, was Syrian; Adrian VI, elected in 1522, was from the Netherlands. - AP