The pope, otherwise known as the bishop of Rome, lives in the Vatican. Of all the sovereign states in the world, Vatican City is the smallest and encompasses an area of approximately 109 acres. The one grand church in Vatican City called the Basilica of St. Peter is the master church for all Catholics and is the largest church in the global Christian community. About 1,100 people live in this city and about 4,200 work there every day. Not only is the Vatican the home of the head of state, the pope, it is also the home of a vast collection of religious art and contains the largest library of ancient sacred books dating as far back as the 1st century A.D.
At one point in time, Vatican City was made up of several smaller states in Italy known as the Papal States. In today’s reduced size, the Vatican still maintains the qualities of a large country such as having formal diplomatic ties with over 180 countries as well as the United Nations. Similar to the U.S. Government, the Vatican’s government issues its own stamps and mints its own coins. Just like a United States president who receives protection from the U.S. Secret Service, so too does the pope have his own security service called the Swiss Guard who maintains a watchful eye over his safety. The Swiss Guard is considered a remnant of the papal army and is considered Vatican’s national police force.
In order for one to become a pope, a governing body made up of a group of high-ranking bishops called the College of Cardinals convenes no earlier than 15 days and no later than 20 days after the death of his predecessor. A cardinal is a high-ranking bishop who is appointed to be a cardinal by the pope. Every cardinal under the age of 80 is allowed to partake in the election of a new pope. Election of a pope is done traditionally by a secret ballot.
A two-thirds majority vote is required in order for a person to become a pope. Ballots that do not meet that two-thirds majority requirement are burned in a small stove within the counsel chambers along with straw that will produce dark smoke. The crowd of onlookers wondering who their next pope will be will see this dark smoke and know that a new pope has not been elected as of yet. If the necessary two-thirds majority is met, the ballots are then burned without straw to produce white smoke that signals to the entire Catholic community that there is a new leader in the church.
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