Students read questions submitted by their schools to Lori about the conclave, whose responses were heard through speakers set up in classrooms. At Our Lady of Victory on Wilkens Avenue in Baltimore County, girls in plaid skirts and boys in ties watched on a laptop and projector screen a live stream of students asking Lori questions.

While Lori is not a cardinal and thus not eligible to be a papal elector, his predecessor in Baltimore, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, will be casting votes. O'Brien, who holds the title of archbishop emeritus of Baltimore, left in May 2012 after then Pope Benedict named him grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Catholic order of knights based in Rome. It promotes Christianity in the Holy Land.

O'Brien's predecessor, Cardinal William H. Keeler, was the last sitting head of the Archdiocese of Baltimore to participate in a conclave, helping to elect Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

Lori told the students that the cardinals will meet in the Sistine Chapel under secure conditions, with their cellphones and other gadgets taken away, a sweep of the facility to uncover any recording or transmitting devices, and staff being sworn to secrecy.

"The cardinals have to remain separated the whole time. They can't give interviews. They can't be talking to other people," said Lori, describing how the Vatican maintains the "integrity" of the vote.

"Cardinals are not permitted to bring in their cellphones or their smartphones or their iPads in there. They can't even have a TV or radio," he said. "If you can imagine living without any of those things for a couple of days, that alone should make you want to pray for the cardinals."

Lori gave the students some behind-the-scenes insights into the conclave, saying he has stayed at the 130-room guesthouse, Casa Santa Marta, near St. Peter's Basilica, where the cardinals will sleep.

"The food is pretty good," he said, "and they actually have a place where you can exercise. But I don't know that all the cardinals use the elipticals."

He also told them that although the staff can't have 115 white vestments tailor-made for each cardinal in case he's elevated to the papacy, there will be three garments that should fit almost all of them. One will be for a "tall and heavy" type, another "short and heavy" and a third that should fit "a medium-sized pope."

"They don't really have one for the skinny guys," Lori said.

Sue Naylor, religion teacher at Our Lady of Victory, said the chat brought a real-life element to the church history that the eighth-grade students have been studying this year.

"It's history in the making," Naylor said.

"What an experience it was," said Emma Olszewski, 13, whom teachers selected to read the school's question to Lori. "I would never have thought I would have a chance to do that."

Students seemed most awed by the cardinals being on digital lockdown during the conclave.

"I think it would be pretty hard not having any electronics," said Megan Quinn, also 13.

While the new pope will be announced by the traditional puff of white smoke, this year a group of Catholic University students is offering through popealert.com to send a text as soon as that signal is spotted in Vatican City.

Principal Wendy Cottrell said she was glad to see students so engaged in the conclave through modern means of communications. "I loved using new technology to bring the world into the classroom," Cottrell said.

Lori said that for all the speculation over who the cardinals may choose, and when, the result is beyond anyone's control. At least, anyone on Earth.

"It's simply a time for prayer and trust. Ultimately, the church is in the Lord's hands. We're really only his instrument," he said. "It's actually a wonderful thing to stand with Catholics around the world and learn the news."

Tribune Newspapers contributed to this article.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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