NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A new Pope could be selected within the next month, Vatican officials announced over the weekend.
A new Pope could be named before March 15 if the church waives the mourning period, since Pope Benedict XVI is alive and resigning, according to church officials.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan will be among the Catholic officials at the conclave to elect a new head of the church.
Following regular Mass Sunday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a churchgoer named Cheryl Zuczek on Kennett Square, Pennsylvania said she is looking forward to new church leadership.
“Well, I would rather that they move it up then us be in limbo with no Pope and I’m hoping that they get a younger Pope that is more in touch with what is going on in the world,” Zuczek told WCBS 880’s Ginny Kosola.
Dolan said he is eager to hear instructions.
“I would think one would not want to rush into the conclave so I guess the important thing is for us to be there, to express our love and our best wishes to Pope Benedict, to pray together and then to make these decisions,” Cardinal Dolan said.
Dolan says the Pontiff’s retirement is a sterling example of humility.
The last time a Pope retired was nearly 600 years ago. Typically, the leader of the Catholic Church remains until his death.
Meantime, tens of thousands of the faithful packed St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday morning to hear from and get blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.
Smiling broadly, Benedict raised his arms outstretched to the massive crowd in his second-to-last Angelus blessing before leaving the papacy. A huge banner in the square read: “We love you.”
The Sunday noon appointment is one of the most cherished traditions of the Catholic Church, and this moment is one of Benedict’s last opportunities to connect with the Catholic masses.
The pope’s voice was strong and clear as he looked into hazy sunshine over the square packed with at least 50,000 pilgrims, whom he addressed in Italian, English, French, German, Polish and Spanish.
Benedict made no direct reference to his stunning decision to step down on Feb. 28. But in his comments to Spanish-speaking pilgrims he asked the faithful to “continue praying for me and for the next pope.” And he thanked the faithful for their “affection and spiritual closeness.”
The crowd broke out into cheers and wild applause.
The pope gave particular thanks to the “beloved inhabitants of the city of Rome,” a possible hint at the title he will take after retirement. The Vatican has suggested he may be called “emeritus bishop of Rome.”
The traditional noon appointment normally attracts a few thousand pilgrims and tourists, but city officials prepared for a crush of people seeking to witness a moment of history.
“We wanted to wish him well,” said Amy Champion, a tourist from Wales. “It takes a lot of guts to take the job and even more guts — to quit.”
From Sunday evening, the pope will be out of the public eye for an entire week: A meditation service at the Vatican marks the beginning of the traditional Lenten period of reflection and prayer.
Rome added extra buses and subway trains to help deal with the crowds, and offered free shuttle vans for the elderly and disabled.
While cardinals elect his successor next month in a secrecy-steeped conclave in the Sistine Chapel, the 85-year-old Benedict, the first pontiff to resign in 600 years, will be in retreat at the Holy See’s summer estate in the hills southeast of Rome.
After several weeks, he is expected to move into a monastery being refurbished for him behind Vatican City’s walls and lead a largely cloistered life.
The Vatican hasn’t announced the date of the start of the conclave, but said on Saturday that it might start sooner than March 15, the earliest date it can be launched under current rules. Benedict would have to sign off on any earlier date, an act that would be one of the last of his nearly eight-year papacy.
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