Roman Catholic cardinals preparing to elect a successor to John Paul II held a final round of meetings Saturday. On Sunday, they move into the Santa Marta residence, where they will stay throughout the conclave.
Speculation is intense about who the cardinals will elect
The cardinals met formally for the 12th and final time to wrap up debate on the state of the Church and characteristics of the man who should take the helm, as well as final preparations for the conclave.
They also attended prayers marking the end of the nine-day period of mourning for the late pope, which began April 8, the day of his funeral.
The late pontiff's papal ring, the Fisherman's Ring, was also smashed according to centuries-old tradition, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.
The destruction of the ring, signifying the end of his 26-year papacy, was performed by the cardinal camerlengo, or chamberlain, Spain's Eduardo Martinez Somalo, who is temporarily in charge of the Holy See until a new pope is elected.
Somalo also broke the lead seal used to authenticate papal letters, in accordance with the apostolic constitution, as a prelude to the election. A new one will be made for the next pope.
And Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez concluded nine days of official Vatican mourning by celebrating the final requiem mass for the pontiff, who died on April 2 at the age of 84.
In his homily, Medina said the late pontiff has justifiably been called "the Great" by some since his death because he was a "faithful and prudent" servant of God and "his heart was the heart of Jesus."
Pre-conclave meetings wrap up
Navarro-Valls said the cardinals never raised the name of any candidate in their series meetings this week prior to the conclave which begins on Monday.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls
"I confirm that names were never spoken of during the general congregations," held each day to discuss the state of the Church and prepare for conclave, he told a press conference.
He could not comment on what conversations may have taken place in private.
The "climate of these congregations has been one of great familiarity," he said. "This has been perhaps an expression of the great responsibility that all the cardinals feel at this time. That allowed them to find great consensus on the general themes faced in the discussions."
Battle lines drawn?
Speculation in one Italian newspaper was that battle lines were forming between forces loyal to the ultra-conservative German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the more moderate Italian Dionigio Tettamanzi (photo).
Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Milan
Another, however, said the game was far more complicated, with Ratzinger perhaps far weaker than originally thought.
That could mean an outcome similar to the conclave that elected John Paul II in 1978, when two Italian cardinals squared off and ultimately gave way to an outsider.
Marco Politi, writing in the Italian daily La Repubblica, said that if Ratzinger proves too weak, or makes it known he is not a candidate, the focus could shift to 77-year-old Cardinal Angelo Sodano, John Paul II's former number two, and Cardinal Camillo Ruini, 74, the head of the Italian bishops' conference and the late pope's deputy as bishop of Rome.
"That risks a repetition of the situation in 1978, when Italians divided between (cardinals Siri and Benelli), and (Austrian) Cardinal Koenig succeeded in pushing forward the candidacy of Karol Wojtyla," the future John Paul II.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Ratzinger (photo), who turned 78 on Saturday, was the pope's prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- his theological "enforcer."
He has come from behind in the sweepstakes as a potential new pope, despite his age, uncertain health and a bloc of cardinals, including fellow Germans, who consider him too conservative.
Tettamanzi, the 71-year-old archbishop of Milan, has for most of the past weeks led the pack of "papabili" or shared the lead narrowly with Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former archbishop of Milan, Nigeria's Francis Arinze and Honduran Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga.
Marco Tosatti, senior Vatican-watcher at Italy's La Stampa daily, said that "48 hours away from the conclave, the camps are forming, and a Ratzinger-Tettamanzi face-off is developing.
"Tomorrow (Sunday) will be the day of major consultations ... that could completely reverse what we have been seeing -- a strong group in favor of Cardinal Ratzinger and a group, less solid," around Tettamanzi.
Tosatti, like all commentators, is working from tenuous information, as the cardinals have all sworn themselves to secrecy and pledged not to talk to the press.
Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos
Even so, he said there is "talk" of a compromise candidate, Colombia's Dario Castrillon Hoyos (photo), 76.
If the front-runners fall away in early voting any number of names could crop up. The cardinals are due Sunday afternoon to move into the Vatican's Santa Marta residence, where they will stay throughout the conclave. On Monday morning they will celebrate a mass dedicated to the papal election and get down to business that afternoon.