Why does the pope wear red shoes? A Yahoo News Q&A on choosing a new pontiff

Since Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement last month, interest in his successor, the Vatican and all things papal has peaked, with searches for answers about the pope—and the process for picking the next one—spiking online. Yahoo! has seen its own share of papal searches, from "What is the pope's ring?" and "What is pope emeritus?" to "What is a conclave?" and "Pope Benedict's salary." Below are answers to some of the most common (and a few not-so-common) questions about the pope perfect for your own private conclave. Enjoy.

Why is the pope called the pope?

"Pope" is Latin for "papa," or father. He is considered the bishop of Rome, leader of the worldwide Catholic Church and the successor of Saint Peter, the apostle.

Why does the pope get a new name when he's selected?

Like everything else, the process of naming the pope is steeped in tradition. During the early years of the church, Roman bishops used their own names after their elections. The first bishop to change his name after being elected pope was Mercurius, who decided it was not appropriate to have a pope be named after a Roman god. (Mercurius became Pope John II.) Some pontiffs followed suit and changed their names; others did not. According to the website, the last pope to use his given name was Pope Marcellus II in 1555. Since then, every pope has chosen a papal name upon election.

[Also read: Pope breaks Twitter silence]

The choice is a symbolic one, often to signal which former pope the newly elected pontiff will emulate. In 2005, when Pope Benedict XVI chose his papal name, Vaticanologists said it was because he wanted to follow in the footsteps of the previous Pope Benedict and also call attention to the fact that that Benedict XV's seven-and-a-half-year reign was "a relatively short one."

By the way, there has never been a Pope Peter II. While there is no rule against picking Peter, elected popes have shied away from changing their name to that of the original apostle.

What do they call the outgoing pope now?

After becoming the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years, Pope Benedict XVI will be known in retirement as simply Benedict XVI, pope emeritus, emeritus pope, Roman pontifex emeritus or "his holiness," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said last week. The 85-year-old Benedict will retain his papal name rather than reverting to his birth name, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger.

Why is the pope chosen by a conclave?

The idea behind a papal conclave is to speed up the process of picking the next pope. According to NBC News, conclaves were created in the 13th century by Pope Gregory X after a papal election that dragged on for nearly three years, infuriating the people of Viterbo, a medieval town where the pontiffs then lived.

"The people of Viterbo had finally had it and locked the cardinals in a big hall until they elected someone," Christopher Bellitto, associate professor of history at Kean University, told NBC. "They still wouldn't elect, so the good people of Viterbo ripped the roof off the hall. They still wouldn't elect, so then they started to give them only bread and water," eventually threatening to shower them with garbage.

"Lo and behold," Bellitto said, "they elected Pope Gregory," who quickly decided all future elections would be conducted by a conclave.

[Related: Who will be the next pope?]

But even before the 115 cardinals are locked away to make their decision, there's a whole lot of papal politicking to be done. "All the real business takes place at night over anisette and grappa," Bellitto said.

The College of Cardinals met on Monday for the first time since Pope Benedict announced his resignation. A series of formal and informal confabs are expected until the church announces a date for the conclave, which should begin sometime before March 20.

A repeat of Viterbo isn't likely. But given the tumultuous state of the Catholic Church, some are predicting it could be the longest conclave of the past 100 years.

If all else fails, the cardinals could always pick the next pope with a March Madness-style bracket, or what the Religion News Service is calling its "Sweet Sistine."

Where does the outgoing pope go while his successor is chosen?

During the papal conclave, Benedict will stay at the Apostolic Palace and the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo on Lake Albano, southwest of Rome, which historically functions as the pope's summer residence. When his successor is chosen, Benedict XVI will return to his new home, a former nunnery (Mater Ecclesiae or "Mother of the Church") on Vatican grounds—but not until renovations are completed this spring.

During the conclave, the pope's apartment at the Vatican will be sealed off to "ensure no documents in process prior to his resignation will be issued."

Why does the pope wear red shoes?

The red shoe tradition dates to 1566, according to NPR, "when St. Pope Pius V, a White Dominican, decided to change the papal vestment from red to white. The pope's cap, cape and shoes are the only bits of red left from the pre-1566 days."

Historically, the red shoes were festooned with a large gold cross or gold buckle when walking outside—"all the better for kissing," ABC said. Pope Paul XVI kept the red shoes but ditched the kissing—and the buckles—in the 1960s. All successive popes wore red shoes but one, John Paul II, who wore brown. Benedict reinstated the red shoes, opting for loafers made by a Rome-based, Peruvian-born shoemaker Antonio Arellano.

After his election, Italian media dubbed Benedict XVI the "Prada Pope" for what the Wall Street Journal called "the raft of designer labels floating around the new pontiff," including his stylish red shoes. (A senior Vatican official told the Journal they were not Prada but a custom-made pair from the pope's personal cobbler.)

Last week, the Vatican said Benedict would have to forgo the trademark red for a $200 pair of brown leather loafers made by Armando Martin Duenas, a Catholic shoemaker from Leon, Mexico. Since the Vatican's announcement, Duenas told NPR that his phone "has been ringing off the hook."

Why does the pope wear that hat?

That hat, called a miter, is "an ancient symbol of priestly authority," according to ABC News:

[Miters] come in several styles: simplex or simple, made of white linen or silk; pretiosa or precious, adorned in precious stones; and auriphrygiata or gold, made of gold cloth or white cloth with a gold fringe, typically worn during celebrations.

Benedict was known for wearing miters that were taller and often more colorful than his predecessor John Paul II's.

The rest of the pope's traditional wardrobe includes a white papal skullcap ("zucchetto"), hooded cape ("mozzetta"), gold cross, thin woolen shawl ("pallium," worn during Mass), Santa-like red-velvet winter cap with a white fringe ("camauro") and three-tiered tiara.

Oh, and a gold fisherman's ring, a traditional vestment worn in honor of St. Peter, the first pope and a fisherman by trade. The signet ring, used to officially seal papal documents and ensure their authenticity, is destroyed after a pope's death. In Benedict's case, his will be destroyed, too, using a special silver hammer, the Vatican said.

How much money does the pope earn?

Technically speaking, none. "The pope does not and has never received a salary," a Vatican spokesman told The New York Times in 2001 after some speculation arose about the source of his finances. But he doesn't need one. The Vatican covers his expenses, and the 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church often donate money for His Holiness' use. In 2010, for example, U.S. bishops presented Pope Benedict XVI with a birthday gift of $870,000 from Catholics across the country "to support his charitable works."

What is the meaning behind the papal hand sign?

The papal hand sign, or Latin gesture of benediction, is a symbol of blessing in which the thumb, index and middle finger of the right hand is extended while the ring and pinky fingers are bent. The gesture was traditionally seen given by bishops, popes and saints outside of Mass.

But according to the website, "the practice widely disappeared, without having ever been ... officially discouraged, let alone abolished."

What happens to the pope's Twitter feed?

In December, Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to join Twitter, tweeting 140-character-or-less spiritual messages to more than 1.5 million followers from his verified @Pontifex account. (Benedict sent the first tweet, with the rest of His Holiness'-approved tweets published by someone in the Vatican.) Since his official resignation last week, all tweets by Benedict have been archived on the Vatican's website, and the @Pontifex feed, like the pope's seat itself, is currently "sede vacante."