In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI delivers his blessing during his last Angelus noon prayer, from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Benedict XVI gave his pontificate's final Sunday blessing from his studio window to the cheers of tens of thousands of people packing St. Peter's Square, but sought to reassure the faithful that he wasn't abandoning the church by retiring to spend his final years in prayer. The 85-year-old Benedict is stepping down on Thursday evening, the first pope to do so in 600 years, after saying he no longer has the mental or physical strength to vigorously lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)
Pope Benedict XVI has issued a "motu proprio," a personal document that has the force of church law, to speed up the timeline for choosing his successor.
The conclave rule change allows cardinals to move up the start date if they all arrive in Rome before the usual 15-day transition. Once the cardinals meet in what's called General Congregations, they will set the date for the conclave, which is now scheduled for March 15.
Vatican insiders anticipate a new date of March 9 or 10 so that a pope will be in place before Palm Sunday.
Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, spoke at a ceremony at the Holy Name Cathedral Sunday afternoon, where he called the week ahead an "intense moment."
“It’s an intense moment because it’s taken very seriously,” George said. “Hopefully the conclave will make a good pope. It worked last time and the time before that so I'm sure it will work this time too.”
Pope Benedict XVI delivered his final words earlier that day where he emphasized that he is not abandoning the church but that he will serve in a way “more suitable” to his age and strength.
George said he plans to take “an active part” in the conversation to elect a new pope and asked that his followers pray for him and the other cardinals as he heads to the Vatican Tuesday.
He said the new pope should be a man of prayer, a man of deep faith, a man with a universal vision and a heart for the poor, but that age may not play a factor in the decision despite the current situation.
"Certainly we want someone who is vigorous and able to govern for a good number of years," he siad. "Most of the cardinals are not really young men, most are in their 60s or 70s."
George also acknowledged the possibility of a first-ever American pope.
“Everything is possible,” he said. “There are some good candidates here.”
Published at 9:04 AM EST on Feb 25, 2013