They sent a message to the “pope emeritus”, born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, thanking him for his toil in the Lord’s vineyard.
Five more cardinals with voting rights are due to arrive before the Conclave’s date is set, Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s press secretary, told reporters.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, even though no longer the head of the Roman Catholic Church, will not go into oblivion, representatives of the Holy See say. As the College of Cardinals began in Rome on March 4th ahead of the forthcoming Conclave, 142 of the 208 cardinals attending will discuss the results of Cardinal Ratzinger’s eight-year pontificate, pressing church issues and even the personal traits of a desired successor. The exact date of the Conclave will be announced after the congreagations.
The congregations of cardinals were marred by a curious incident in which an impostor was spotted among those who arrived for the first meeting. The ‘false’ bishop clad in a cardinal’s attire was identified and driven out. Judging by the incident, the international community is demonstrating undivided interest in what is happening on the sidelines of the vacant Holy See. Igor Baranov, director of the Moscow-based Franciscan Publishing House, comments.
"Given that the election of a new pontiff is within the domain of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit acts through people, the cardinals should arrive at the best choice, through dialogue and consultations. The Pope’s influence on the world’s spirituality is great beyond description. There are more than one billion Catholic believers in the world."
Cardinals meetings precede every pontifical election. This time, however, the cardinals are pressed for time – they have to outline issues of primary concern and discuss contenders for the papacy over a fairly short period of time. In the absence of clearly defined preferences, the cardinals’ requirements to the future pontiff include extensive pastoral experience, the ability to be persuasive in professing Catholicism, and determination to address the most pressing church issues. Dozens of cardinals from Europe, America and Africa have been named candidates for the papacy. The youngest of the so-called ‘favorites’ is a little over 60. Analyst Pavel Svyatenkov believes that over 60 is a fairly advanced age for the Pope.
"The cardinals could elect a younger pontiff so that his pontificate would span a longer period of time. In all likelihood, the next Pope will not come from a European country. For many years it was Italian cardinals who were elected pontiffs. This tradition was broken by Pope John Paul II, who was Polish. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was German. Now, it would make sense to pick a cardinal from Latin America."
The Moscow Patriarchate is sure, however, that Italians have still more chances. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk is the chairman of the Holy Synod’s Department of External Church Relations.
"Ten cardinals have a good chance of being elected. Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who currently serves in the Roman Curia as President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, is among them. Cardinal Ravasi will hold talks with the bishops ahead of the Conclave, so cardinals will be able to meet him in person. Other popular cardinals include Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, and Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa. In my opinion, the vacant papacy will likely go to an Italian."
115 of the 208 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church will elect the 266th Bishop of Rome. The electors cannot be more than 80 years old at the time of the Conclave. 103 electors have already arrived in the Vatican. Another 12 will be arriving soon. The Sistine Chapel where the Conclave is held, is currently open for tourists but will close as soon as the bishops agree on the date of the election. In the meantime, ready-made vestments for the new pontiff have been put on display by the Gammarelli tailors who have been servicing the papal court since 1798. Since the size of the next pontiff is unknown, the attire is presented in three versions – small, medium and large.
A man dressed up in what could be loosely described as a cardinal’s formal garments has been caught trying to sneak into the highly-restricted synod of Vatican bishops, media report.
The imposter managed to filter into the crowd of cardinals on their way to the Vatican and made it as far as the square outside the Paul VI audience hall before he was outed.
The “false cardinal” was led away accompanied by laughter of reporters and puzzled looks from bystanders.
The first conclave meeting before the papal vote kicked off early Monday with talks on general Church issues. The gathering is presided over by dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano.
Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world are due to meet in Rome to begin the process of electing the next Pope. The College of Cardinals will hold daily talks leading up to a conclave in which a new Pope will be chosen. The election process comes after Pope Benedict XVI stepped down after nearly eight years in office leading the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
He was the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.
The first pre-conclave meeting on Monday morning is to be headed by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
Cardinals - known as the "princes" of the Church - will discuss future challenges to the Church and discreetly weigh up possible papal candidates.
The conclave - to be held in the Sistine Chapel - is expected to take place next week.
Correspondents say the 115 cardinal electors, those under the age of 80 who will take part in the conclave, will want the new Pope to be officially installed in time to preside over Holy Week.
Ceremonies start with Palm Sunday on 24 March and culminate in Easter the following Sunday.
The BBC's David Willey in Rome says strict precautions against leaks of unauthorised information will be in operation at the Vatican until the next Pope has been chosen.
Technicians will debug the cardinals' lodgings and mobile phones will be banned altogether during the conclave.
Britain's formerly most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, has said he will not take part in the conclave after standing down amid allegations of improper behaviour.
On Sunday, he admitted his sexual conduct had at times "fallen beneath the standards expected of me".
He apologised and asked forgiveness from those whom he had "offended".
Cardinal O'Brien resigned as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh last Monday after three priests and a former priest made allegations against him dating back to the 1980s.
Benedict, 85, officially ceased to be the Pope at 20:00 local time (19:00 GMT) on Friday.
He left the Vatican in a motorcade before being flown by helicopter to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome.
He has vowed "unconditional obedience and reverence" to his successor.
The German pontiff, who was born Joseph Ratzinger, will continue to be known as Benedict XVI, with the new title of "pope emeritus".
The theologian is expected to retire to a monastery on a hill inside Vatican City. Officials say he will not be able to intervene publicly in the next papacy although he may offer advice.
In an interview with the Rossiya-24 TV channel broadcast on Monday, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, dwelled on the process of electing the new Pope.
According to him, each of the ten Cardinals has ‘real chances’ of becoming the new pontiff, including Gianfranco Ravasi, Angelo Scola and Angelo Bagnasco of Italy, as well as Hungary’s Peter Erde and Christoph Schoenbern of Austria.
Additionally, Metropolitan Hilarion mentioned Cardinals from the United States, Canada and Argentina, who he said may also be elected.
The conclave to this effect is expected to take place in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican next week.
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia has thanked Pope Benedict XVI, who has stepped down form his post, for his uncompromising position on faith issues and wished him strength, the patriarch's press service reported on Friday.
"In these days, which are special to you, I would like to express feelings of brotherly love in Christ and respect," the patriarch said in his message to the pontiff.
The patriarch said the decision made by Benedict XVI to step down from his post, which the pope announced "with humility and simplicity" on February 11, drew "a lot of response" in the hearts of millions of Catholics.
"Your uncompromising and consistent position on issues relating to faith and your adherence to the living church traditions have always been close to us. At a time when the ideology of permissiveness and moral relativism is trying to cause people to lose moral values, you boldly raised your voice in defense of evangelical ideals and high human dignity, calling on people to become free from sin," Patriarch Kirill said.
Patriarch Kirill said it is with warmth that he recalls his meetings with Joseph Ratzinger before his election as pope.
Patriarch Kirill believes the relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, "which bear great responsibility for testifying Christ to the modern world," received "a new impetus" in the years of the service of Benedict XVI.
Patriarch Kirill said he is hoping "the good and close relations between Orthodox and Catholic Christians," which developed with active participation by Benedict XVI, will continue developing under his successor.
"Accept my sincere wishes of good health, long life, and God's help in your prayer and theological work," the patriarch said in his message to Benedict XVI.
Benedict XVI voluntarily left his post as pope on February 28. Such things have not happened in the Vatican for almost 600 years. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in the 1415.
Benedict XVI intends to settle down in a monastery in the Vatican. He will not take part in church management and will dev vote his life wholly to prayer and thinking.
In his last address to believers, Benedict XVI said: "This day is different from other days. I will not be pope anymore, I will be a pilgrim undertaking his last stage of pilgrimage on this earth. This day has bought great joy to me. I am ready to serve God with all my heart, prayers, and thoughts, and all my internal forces. I bless you in the name of the Holy Spirit," he said.
Preparations for electing Roman Catholicism's new leader begin in earnest on Monday as the College of Cardinals opens daily talks to sketch an identikit for the next pope and ponder who among them might fit it.
The idea is to have the new pope elected during next week and officially installed several days later so he can preside over the Holy Week ceremonies starting with Palm Sunday on March 24 and culminating in Easter the following Sunday.
The general congregations, closed-door meetings in the interregnum between a papacy and the conclave to choose the next one, will hold morning and afternoon sessions in an apparent effort to discuss as much as possible in a short time.
The list of challenges facing the crisis-hit Church could take weeks to debate, but the Vatican seems keen to have only a week of talks so the 115 cardinal electors - those under 80 - can enter the Sistine Chapel for the conclave next week.
High on the agenda will be Church governance after last year's Vatileaks scandal exposed corruption and rivalries in the Vatican's Curia bureaucracy. Cardinals expect to be briefed on a secret report to the pope on the problems it highlighted.
Voice of Russia, Gazeta.ru, RIA, Interfax, Reuters, BBC, TASS