The Vatican press office has said the conclave to elect the successor of Pope Benedict XVI will begin on Tuesday.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi announced the date in a message to reporters today.
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.
The 115 cardinal electors will assemble in the Hall of Blessings in St Peter’s Basilica after lunch and go in solemn procession to the Sistine Chapel where, after the singing of the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, each cardinal will take an oath.
Msgr Guido Marini, papal master of ceremonies, will give the command extra omnes (everybody out), the doors will be locked, and the conclave will begin. One round of balloting will be held in the evening.
The College of Cardinals decided the conclave date on March 8, the fifth day of its meetings, after waiting for all cardinals eligible and expected to vote to arrive in Rome. The last to arrive was Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
At the morning session, before announcing the scheduled vote, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, told the assembly that with the changes made by Pope Benedict, the cardinals would not have to debate on whether they were authorised to begin the conclave before March 15, Fr Lombardi said.
During the same session, the cardinals chose 87-year-old Cardinal Prosper Grech, a Maltese expert in the early Church fathers, to give the meditation at the beginning of the conclave.
The Vatican spokesman said that 18 cardinals spoke during the morning session. As people around the world observed International Women’s Day, one of the cardinals spoke about the role of women in the church.
Other topics included interreligious dialogue, bioethics, the Church’s role in promoting justice, collegiality in the church and the need for the Church’s evangelisers to proclaim God’s love and mercy.