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(NECN/NBC News: Jay Gray) - Thousands packed St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, anticipating the first vote as 115 catholic cardinals, locked away from the outside world, began the solemn and secret process of electing the new leader of their faith.
The first ballot has been cast, and the catholic cardinals have sent a message to the world: they have not yet settled on who will be the next leader of their church.
With thousands gathered and watching in St. Peter's Square, black smoke cut through the rain and clouds above the Sistine Chapel. The first papal vote, as expected, did not end with the election of a new pope.
“I just pray and just ask God to really guide the church in this time," said Anna Fsadni who is visiting from Sydney.
For Catholics, it is a time of both history and circumstance. Their church is at a cross roads, searching for someone who can deal with on-going problems at the Vatican and inspire the faithful as the number of active parishioners continues to wane.
"We need a leader and we need a visionary and we need somebody that can give our world some hope," said Father James Walsh.
The process to find that leader began earlier Tuesday, wrapped in the ancient sacraments of their religion and the secrecy of the Sistine Chapel.
As the 115 voting cardinals were locked behind the doors of the chapel, the waiting began outside.
“We think it's an amazing opportunity to be here to see the election of a new pope because the pope hasn't stepped down in almost 600 years. So it's history in the making it's important to be here," said Reagan.
And for the Americans who have made this pilgrimage, there is still a hope that the smoke reveals something that has never happened in the history of their church.
"Just so long as it's an American pope," jokes Andrew Moore.
For now, the nationality and the name are still a mystery as the world continues to wait for the white smoke.
The next opportunity for that comes Wednesday morning and the cardinals can vote four times throughout the day if necessary.