Vatican City: Tuesday, March 12, is the day from when cardinals from around the world will hold a conclave at the Sistine Chapel to elect a leader of the world`s 1.2 billion Catholics, after "pope emeritus" Benedict XVI`s historic resignation.
A pre-conclave meeting of cardinals today "decided that the conclave will begin on Tuesday, 12 March 2013," the Vatican said in a statement.
Before voting under a vow of secrecy the cardinals will first celebrate a "Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice" mass in St Peter`s Basilica.
Agencies report Vatican watchers as saying that the 115-odd `cardinal electors` are split roughly into two groups, between those who think that Italy`s Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, should be the successor of Pope Benedict XVI, while others want a non-Italian in charge.
Among other names being debated, agencies say, are Canadian Marc Ouellet, Ghanaian Peter Turkson, US cardinal Sean O`Malley and Luis Antonio Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila.
Earlier on Friday as the cardinal electors arrived in Rome, speculation mounted that the cardinals would want to start the conclave to appoint Pope Benedict`s successor soon.
"We shall see, we shall see," Italian cardinal Crescenzio Sepe told journalists as he arrived at the Vatican on the fifth day of General Congregations or pre-conclave talks.
The conclave venue, the Vatican`s world-famous Sistine Chapel, had been off-limits to tourists since March 05 as a raised floor to conceal bugging devices and two stoves attached to the renaissance chapel`s chimney: one to burn ballots and the second to send up the smoke that signals to the word if a new pontiff has been elected.
When a candidate obtains two-thirds of the cardinal electors` votes, the smoke from the Sistine Chapel`s chimney turns from black to white to announce that a new pope has been chosen.
Cardinals had earlier said they want to elect a new pope by the start of Easter Holy Week March 24.
The 85-year-old Benedict, whose papacy was hit by a series of scandals, abdicated on February 28 on the grounds that he lacked the physical and mental strength to stay in the job.
With Agency Inputs