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Cardinals in Rome begin talks on next Pope

The race to replace Pope Benedict XVI could get under way Monday, just four days after the 85-year-old pontiff vacated the papacy, citing ailing health.

More than 100 Catholic cardinals gathered in Vatican City on Monday morning for the first of two meetings where they could set a date for the next conclave – when all cardinals under age 80 meet at the Vatican to vote for the next pope, CNN reports.

A second meeting is planned for Monday afternoon. Benedict was the first pope to resign in 600 years. Throughout history, the transfer of papal power has almost always happened after the sitting pope has died.

Normally, the College of Cardinals is not allowed to select a new pontiff until 15 to 20 days after the office becomes vacant. However, Benedict slightly amended the 500-year-old policy on pope selection to get a successor into place more rapidly.

The cardinals may be able to pull it off before March 15, according to Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.

The favorites include Archbishop Angelo Scola and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Italy. They also include Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who could become the first African pontiff since Pope Gelasius I died more than 1500 years ago; and Cardinal Marc Oullet of Canada, who could become the first North American pope.

Cardinals must vote for the pope in person, via paper ballot only. While some work at the Vatican, most are spread out worldwide running dioceses or archdioceses, and would have to travel to Rome.

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