The Vatican announced today that the conclave to elect the next pope will begin Tuesday.
Catholic cardinals from across the globe now gathered at the Vatican were waiting for the arrival of Vietnam's cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham, who arrived Thursday, before a date could be set for the election.
When all 115 of the voting cardinals were finally together, they began to gather for the meetings known as general congregations. They discussed the problems facing the church, while getting to know one another.
U.S. Cardinal Roger Mahony caused a wave of anticipation Thursday when he tweeted that the discussions were "reaching a conclusion."
"Days of General Congregations reaching a conclusion. Setting of date for Conclave nearing. Mood of excitement prevails among Cardinals," he tweeted.
The setting of the date functions as a deadline for pre-conclave discussions.
Once the conclave begins, the cardinals vote four times a day: twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. All these votes are made during silent prayer within the Sistine Chapel, which has been closed to tourists.
Many of the billion-plus Catholics around the world are anticipating who will be selected the next pontiff. One hint has even arrived that the next pope could be an American.
An article in an Italian magazine by a respected religion writer says that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current Archbishop of New York, is being strongly considered as a viable candidate.
The article states that he is considered a great communicator, which is an essential quality in the very public role that the pope will play.
Cardinal Patrick O'Malley of Boston is also mentioned in the same article as a viable candidate.
There is reportedly a rift brewing between U.S. cardinals and Vatican-based cardinals, with the Americans on one side allegedly pushing to delay this process, while the Italians are pushing for a quick vote.
The Italians have more votes and more visibility, so a quick vote is thought to favor them.
The 2005 conclave following the death of Pope John Paul II began April 18 of that year and ended the following day, after just four ballots.