The College of Cardinals decided on Friday that the conclave to elect the successor of Benedict XVI as leader of the Roman Catholic Church will begin March 12, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
That morning in St. Peter's Basilica a "pro eligendo Romano Pontifice" Mass will be said, and then in the afternoon the 115 cardinal electors will enter the Sistine Chapel to begin the conclave.
That same afternoon will see the first round of voting, followed by the customary "fumata", the smoke signal issuing from the Vatican rooftop, which if white shows the new pope has been elected, and if black, not yet.
The date of what will be the second conclave of the third millennium was set by the College of Cardinals in the eighth General Congregation, which took place Friday afternoon at the Synod Hall.
Vatican regulations say that the conclave of cardinals must begin 15 to 20 days after the papal vacancy begins, which on this occasion was at 8 pm on February 28, for the purpose of allowing all the cardinals in the world to attend.
Benedict, however, granted the College of Cardinals the freedom to bring forward or postpone the conclave.