Pontiff's reign closed officially

Cardinals begin moving for start of conclave


VATICAN CITY -- The Roman Catholic Church officially closed out Pope John Paul II's reign yesterday and unveiled a false floor in the Sistine Chapel to hide anti-eavesdropping equipment.

The Vatican said Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, the papal chamberlain, destroyed Pope John Paul's Fisherman's Ring and lead seal, officially ending his pontificate, during a meeting of cardinals to discuss problems facing the church.

Then, the cardinals in Rome under the age of 80 were told to begin moving this afternoon into the Domus Sanctae Marthae, or St. Martha's House, behind St. Peter's Basilica, for the conclave, which begins tomorrow.

Twelve tables lined with chairs to accommodate the cardinals have been moved into the Sistine Chapel, where they will deliberate. A large Bible held a central place of honor and a tubular, cast-iron furnace inscribed with the dates of the past five papal conclaves sat prepared to signal to the world Habemus papam -- Latin for "We have a pope."

The Vatican allowed groups of journalists, some chosen by lottery, to briefly view the Sistine Chapel yesterday as thousands of pilgrims attended the last of nine mourning Masses, known as Novemdiales services, in St. Peter's to mark the passing of Pope John Paul.

In the Sistine Chapel, infused with the restored colors of Michelangelo's 16th-century masterworks, workers have built a platform elevating the conclave's deliberations about 2 feet off the floor. Equipment to thwart listening devices and cell phone signals was placed under the floor -- though there were reports that journalists' cell phones had picked up signals during the tour.

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