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Rome braces for influx of visitors as search for papal replacement begins

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Rome is bracing for the faithful to arrive for the election and installation of the cardinal who will succeed Benedict as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. The 85-year-old Pope Benedict announced his resignation earlier this month, stepping down at the end of this month, planning to retreat to a life of prayer in a monastery behind the Vatican's ancient walls.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The pontiff told cardinals that he no longer has the mental and physical stamina to vigorously shepherd the church.

He smiled shyly at the sight of the crowd on Sunday, filled with pilgrims waving their countries' flags and holding up banners with words of support. One group of Italians raised a banner which read: "We love you."

:Thanks for turnout in such numbers! This, too, is a sign of the affection and the spiritual closeness that you are giving me in these days." He stretched out his arms as if to embrace the faithful from across the vast expanse of the square. The pope then asked the faithful to "continue praying for me and for the next pope."

Authorities used the traditional Sunday window appearance the event as a kind of trial run for the crowds expected to flock to the square in the coming weeks for the next pope's installation.

Benedict's successor will make his first papal appearance by stepping onto the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on the square, shortly after puffs of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney tell the world the cardinals have made their secret selection.

Some of the faithful were dismayed that Benedict broke with the centuries-old tradition that popes serve until their last breath.

A youth group Militia Christi (Latin for Christ's Militia) held a hand-painted banner asking the pope to stay. "We are asking him to change his mind. He is the good of the church," youth Giovan Battista Varricchio said.

No official decision has been announced on a date for the conclave to elect Benedict's successor, but the Vatican has suggested that it might start sooner than March 15, the earliest date possible under current rules, which require a 15-20 day waiting period after the papacy becomes vacant.

A debate has begun on whether such a change could be justified and whether it might benefit Rome-based cardinals, who because of their positions at the church's headquarters can count on their acquaintance with cardinals around the world.

"Church law should not be changed on a whim," the Rev. Thomas Reese, an American Vatican expert said. He said changing law "would be disruptive."

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