Special Report: The Unbroken Line, Electing a New Pope - KiiiTV.com South Texas, Corpus Christi, Coastal Bend

Special Report: The Unbroken Line, Electing a New Pope

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According to the 2012 National Catholic Directory, 65-percent of the Coastal Bend's total population is Catholic. Worldwide, the percentage of Catholics is closer to 17-percent, or roughly 1.2 billion people.

"We Catholics are called as a church to be bringers of peace and unity. We have a pivotal role."

So the Vatican will take center stage as Pope Benedict XVI is to become the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.

Monsignor Heras of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church discussed the complexities of electing a new pontiff once the pope officially steps down.

"The choice of the Holy Father is largely dependent on the needs of the global church, the 1.2 billion," Heras said.

This period of transition, known as the interregnum, will begin at 1 p.m. local time, or at 8 p.m. in Rome, when Benedict vacates the pontificate.

Normally, such a time would last anywhere between 15 and 20 days before the election of a new pope, or "conclave" begins.

"That was obviously there to give time to people for the funeral and to get to Rome."

While all 209 in the College of Cardinals are expected to meet in Rome, only cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible to vote. Once the conclave begins, all cardinals and support staff are sworn to secrecy.

"The need for secrecy. The need for complete isolation.  The need for prayer.  The need for focus is first," said Heras.

They walk in procession daily from their sleeping quarters to the Sistine Chapel.

"This is what the Romans would always say," Heras said. "The people who say, don't know.  The people who know, don't say."

The cardinal-electors might take up to four ballots a day until a two-thirds majority vote is reached. After each round of voting, the ballots will be burned with chemicals to produce either black smoke indicating an inconclusive vote, or white smoke to signify a pope has been elected.

"It's for the faithful. There will be anywhere from 20 to 30 thousand people waiting outside," Heras said. "If we have an African pope. If we have an American pope.  If we have an Italian pope. All that will matter to me is that we have a pope."