Cardinal electors assembled in Rome will begin voting for the next pope March 12.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, announced the date for the start of the election, known as a conclave, in a message to reporters March 8.
The first session of voting inside the Sistine Chapel will begin in the afternoon, following a morning Mass "Pro eligendo Summo Pontifice" ("for the election of the supreme pontiff") in St. Peter's Basilica.
Rules governing papal elections state that a conclave must start between 15 and 20 days after the Holy See falls vacant; but shortly before his resignation Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree allowing cardinal to move up the start date if they choose.
The College of Cardinals decided the date on the fifth day of its pre-conclave meetings, after waiting for the 115 cardinals eligible and expected to vote. The last to arrive in Rome was Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, who joined the others March 7.
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