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Cardinal Dolan Says He's Focusing On The Responsibility Of Picking A New Pope

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Ash Wednesday is the day when many Christians begin a 40-day period in preparation for Easter. Cardinal Timothy Dolan is also preparing -- to travel to Rome, following the historic resignation of the pope.

CBS 2's Tony Aiello caught up with the cardinal on Wednesday afternoon. He was marking the foreheads of the faithful with ashes and using his homily to discuss the shocking decision by Pope Benedict XVI.

"A humility, a consciousness of his mortality, that's what this day is all about everybody, we are conscious of our mortality," Cardinal Dolan said.

Dolan Hands Out Food To Homeless On Ash Wednesday

And Dolan is conscious of the grave responsibility he shares with other cardinals, who will gather in Rome next month to choose Benedict's successor.

"We call him "il papa," our spiritual dad, and we're sad that he's going, and we're going to miss him very much," Cardinal Dolan said of the outgoing pope.

Dolan said he has not spoken to the pope since his surprise resignation Monday, but he did write him a letter. It is being hand carried to Rome by a Vatican official.

Benedict celebrated what will likely be his final public mass in Rome on Wednesday.

A pope who normally receives more respect than affection was showered with lengthy applause as the service ended. He seemed genuinely moved as many in the audience wiped away tears.

New Yorkers said they agree with the showering of praise upon the pontiff.

"A lot of people wanted to make him feel we have sympathy, we are on his side, so to speak," one person said.

Benedict's resignation takes effect on Feb. 28. The conclave to choose a new pope will likely begin mid-March, giving Dolan, who has been a cardinal for just a year, time to size up the papal contenders.

"I'm sure they'll take whatever time between the 28th and when the conclave starts for them to get to know each other and talk about the issues facing the Church," New York Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling said.

The goal is to have a new pope before Easter.

The pope wants to meet with the cardinals on the morning he leaves office, and Cardinal Dolan said he plans to be in Rome for that occasion.

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