Cardinals’ spartan lodgings made for quiet reflection

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This handout picture released by the Vatican Press Office on March 9, 2013 shows the pope’s to be elected temporary apartments in the Casa Santa Marta, the residence inside the Vatican where the cardinals electors will eat and sleep between votes during the conclave. AFP PHOTO/OSSERVATORE ROMANO

VATICAN CITY—The 115 cardinals who will start meeting on Tuesday to elect the next pope are lodging at Casa Santa Marta, 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.

Since the rooms in the former hospice normally occupied by Vatican employees are of varying degrees of comfort, they were assigned by lot during one of the “general congregations” — or pre-conclave meetings.

The residence has its own elegant chapel, sleek marble floors, stained-glass windows and sculptures.

The dining hall looks out over a winter garden and a wall decorated with modern bas-reliefs.

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 500-meter (yard) route to the Sistine Chapel.

And both the residence and the chapel are to be thoroughly swept for bugs.

All the workers at both places — drivers, cooks, receptionists, cleaning staff, nurses, and doctors — will also be sworn to silence in a solemn ceremony.

The windows that look out onto a public street will be covered over to prevent any visual contact with the outside — as well as the long lenses of paparazzi.

The cardinals will move in on Tuesday before the first voting session that afternoon. A full day of voting includes two ballots in the morning and two in the afternoon, until two-thirds of the cardinals rally around one man.

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