While the Pope has begun a week long retreat for Lent the country with the most Roman Catholics is hoping for the election of a Latin American in his stead. With ten days to go before he steps down, people in Brazil are hoping such a move would halt declining numbers of worshippers in the country.
From Rio ITV News' Brazil Correspondent Nick Ravenscroft reports:
Pope Benedict XVI has made his first appearance at St Peter's Square window since announcing his resignation.
At his penultimate Sunday address he thanked faithful "for the prayers and support you have shown to me in these days."
Speaking in Spanish the pontiff added: "I beg you to continue praying for me and the next Pope."
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said officials could study the Holy See's constitution to determine whether they could change rules that would allow an earlier vote on the new Pope.
There is currently a rule in place that requires a 15 to 20 day waiting period after the papacy becomes vacant.
Lombardi said cardinals already know that this pontificate will end on February 28 and can get to Rome in plenty of time.
He said the Vatican rules are open to interpretation and that "this is a question that people are discussing."
The Vatican said the conclave to elect the new Pope could start before March 15 if enough cardinals are present in Rome.
A weary looking Pope Benedict celebrated his last public mass as Pontiff today, inside St Peter's Basilica where thousands gathered to celebrate Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is one of the holiest days of the Catholic faith, and marks the beginning of Lent, forty days before the celebration of Easter Sunday, by which time the church will have a new leader.
Pope Benedict the XVI has celebrated his last scheduled public Mass following his resignation. The service for Ash Wednesday was held in St Peter's Basilica, in the Vatican.
Wearing purple vests to symbolise the beginning of the holy season of Lent, the Pope celebrated a mass packed full of cardinals, bishops, monks, nuns, friars, pilgrims and the public.
Pope Benedict XVI said he was fully aware of the gravity of his decision to resign as pontiff, but said he was confident the decision would not hurt the Church. He said:
"I took this decision in full freedom for the good of the Church after praying for a long time and examining by conscience before God.
He said he lacked the "physical force" required for the role, saying he was:
"Well aware of the gravity of such an act but at the same time aware of not being able to carry out my ministry with the physical and spiritual force that it requires."
Today's Ash Wednesday mass, will be his last public celebration of the Eucharist, unless his schedule changes.
During the season of Lent which begins today, we renew our commitment to the path of conversion, making more room for God in our lives.From @Pontifex on Twitter:
Pope Benedict XVI thanked the faithful for their "love and prayers" at his first public appearance since announcing his resignation, telling them he is stepping down for "the good of the Church".
"Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope," he said at the start of his weekly general audience at the Vatican.
The Pope was interrupted several times by rapturous applause from the 8,000-strong crowd who gathered to watch.
Pope Benedict XVI said he was "well aware of the gravity of such an act" but was also "aware of not being able to carry out my [papal] ministry with the physical and spiritual force that it requires".
Echoing the remarks he made to stunned cardinals when announcing his decision to resign on Monday, the Pope said, "I took this decision in full freedom for the good of the Church after praying for a long time and examining by conscience before God".
Pope Benedict XVI was greeted by a cheering crowd as he made his first public appearance since announcing his resignation: