Rome (CNN) -- The work to choose a successor to retired Benedict XVI begins in earnest Tuesday, as the cardinals charged with the task prepare to be locked away in a secret election, or conclave, in Vatican City.
Just a few hours after moving into Santa Marta, their residence at the Vatican for the duration of the process, the 115 cardinals who will choose the new pope took part in a morning Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
They processed into St. Peter's, clad in scarlet robes, for a service in which they prayed for guidance in making a choice that could be crucial to the future direction of a church rocked by scandal in recent years.
Members of the public waited in long lines Tuesday morning to join the Mass, which was open to all. As the service began, the morning's brilliant sunshine came to an abrupt end, with the skies letting loose thunder, lightning and a torrential downpour.
Applause echoed round St. Peter's as Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, offered thanks for the "brilliant pontificate" of Benedict XVI, whose shock resignation precipitated the selection of a new pope.
Sodano's homily focused on a message of love and unity, calling on all to cooperate with the new pontiff in the service of the church.
"My brothers, let us pray that the Lord will grant us a pontiff who will embrace this noble mission with a generous heart," he concluded. In the afternoon, the 115 cardinal-electors -- those younger than 80 who are eligible to vote -- will go to the Pauline Chapel for further prayers.
They will then walk to the Sistine Chapel, chanting prayers as they go, to begin the secret election called the conclave.
The doors will be locked behind them, and after that the only clue the world will have of what is happening inside will be periodic puffs of smoke from a copper chimney installed in the chapel over the weekend. Black smoke, no pope.
White smoke, success.
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