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Vatican City, Mar 12 (EFE).- Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, celebrated Mass on Tuesday ahead of the start of the enclave to select the Roman Catholic Church's next pope.
Sodano called for unity in the Catholic Church and asked God to provide the faithful with another pontiff with a "generous heart" who will work tirelessly for justice and peace in the world.
The 115 cardinal electors, other members of the clergy, the diplomatic corps and thousands of the faithful attended the "pro eligendo Romano Pontifice" Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
"St. Paul teaches us that all of us must also work together for the unity of the church and we must cooperate with the successor to St. Peter, a visible foundation of ecclesiastical unity," Cardinal Sodano said.
The 85-year-old Sodano, who will not vote in the conclave, expressed the cardinals' gratitude to Benedict XVI for all his work and asked God to provide the Roman Catholic Church with another "good shepherd."
The 115 cardinal electors will gather at 4:15 p.m. (1515 GMT) for the procession into the Sistine Chapel, which they will enter at 4:30 p.m. (1530 GMT).
The cardinals will lock themselves in the chapel and then begin the conclave to select Benedict XVI's successor, holding the first vote later in the day.
The first round of voting will be followed by the traditional "fumata," the smoke signal issuing from the Vatican rooftop, which if white indicates a new pope has been elected, and if black, no one has yet been selected.
The next pope will need a two-thirds majority of the cardinals present. Since there are 115, he will need a minimum of 77 votes.
The College of Cardinals, called the "most exclusive club in the world," is composed of 207 cardinals from 66 countries, 51 of which have cardinal electors.
Of these cardinals, two were appointed by Paul VI, 117 by John Paul II, and 90 by Benedict XVI, who stepped down on Feb. 28.
The leading candidates, according to observers, are Italian Angelo Scola, the 71-year-old archbishop of Milan; Brazilian Pedro Odilo Scherer, the 63-year-old archbishop of Sao Paulo; Canadian Marc Ouellet, the 69-year-old president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America' and Archbishop of Boston Sean O'Malley, a 68-year-old Capuchin.