Following tradition, the chimney will be used to blow out white smoke to signal the election of the new pope. Inconclusive rounds of voting will be followed by black smoke. Speculation continued to swirl about who would succeed Benedict.

Cardinals were continuing meetings on Saturday, three days before sequestering themselves into a conclave to elect a new leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

More than 150 cardinals had gathered in Rome for the sixth day of General Congregations, a forum for preliminary talks. On Tuesday, only 115 of them — those aged under 80 at the time of Benedict XVI’s resignation — will be allowed to take part in the conclave.

Following the announcement on Friday of the start date for the conclave, preparations have intensified in the Vatican. Workmen were expected Saturday to complete the installation of the chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel, the site where papal voting is to occur.

Following tradition, the chimney will be used to blow out white smoke to signal the election of the new pope. Inconclusive rounds of voting will be followed by black smoke.

Speculation continued to swirl about who would succeed Benedict.

South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier told the La Stampa newspaper that the Church needed a leader “aged between 60 and 67.” Benedict, who became the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years, said he quit because he was too frail to continue. In 2005, at 78, he was the oldest person to have been elected pope since Clement XII in the 18th century.

Italian media have suggested Friday that the leading contenders for the papacy were: Angelo Scola of Italy, 71; Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil, 63; Peter Erdo of Hungary, 60; and Timothy Dolan of the US, 63.

Fox Napier, who is 72 and has not been named in the media as a candidate, suggested that the new pope should come “from a place where the Church is dynamic and active,” listing Asia, Latin America, Africa, “but also parts of Europe and America.” He said the field of candidates was wider than 2005, when the German-born Joseph Ratzinger was the undisputed front-runner.

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