ROME The Vatican announced Wednesday that the conclave of cardinals to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI will begin as early as March 15.
Benedict, meanwhile, met with the public for the first time since he handed in his resignation.
The audience hall at the Vatican, where he holds his weekly audiences, was packed to the rafters.
The hall holds 7,000 people. Across the back, some in attendance had unfurled a large banner reading, "Thank you, Holy Father."
The Pope returned the thanks, expressing gratitude to the Catholic masses for their prayers, which he said he felt almost physically.
Benedict asked the crowd, which had given him a one-minute standing ovation, to pray for the church, for himself and for his successor.
Click on the player above for all the latest on the Pope's audience, and the process to pick his successor, from Allen Pizzey in Rome.