MANILA, Philippines - Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle left for Rome, Italy Tuesday evening, February 26, to attend the conclave that will elect the replacement for resigned Pope Benedict XVI.
Joining Tagle is Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, who will attend the last mass of Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, February 28.
There are mixed views on Tagle's chances of becoming the next pope. The US-based Catholic News Service said "he is one of the cardinals most frequently mentioned as a possible pope."
But citing his age, archbishhops in the Philippines said it is unlikely that Tagle will be the next pope. No pope has come from Asia, too, because the group of electors is dominated by European cardinals who have traditionally chosen one of their own to lead the Catholic Church.
Starting next week, cardinals from around the world will begin a series of meetings to decide what the priorities for the Catholic Church should be, set a start date for the conclave and consider possible candidates for pope.
The conclave -- a centuries-old tradition with an elaborate ritual -- is supposed to be held within 15 to 20 days of the death of the pope, but Benedict has given special dispensation for the cardinals to bring that date forward.
Other cardinals have been flying in from around the world. A total of 115 "cardinal electors" are scheduled to take part after another voter, British cardinal Keith O'Brien said he would not be taking part after allegations emerged that he made unwanted advances towards priests in the 1980s.
Benedict XVI will hold the last audience of his pontificate in St Peter's Square on Wednesday, February 27, on the eve of his historic resignation as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims are expected at the Vatican to bid a final farewell to an 85-year-old pope who abruptly cut short his pontificate by declaring he was too weak in body and mind to keep up with the modern world.
The Vatican says 50,000 people have obtained tickets for the event but many more may come and city authorities are preparing for 200,000, installing metal detectors in the area, deploying snipers and setting up field clinics.
No parking has been allowed in the zone since 10:00 pm Tuesday, and cars were to be barred entirely from 7:00 am on Wednesday.
The weekly audience, which is exceptionally being held in St Peter's Square because of the numbers expected, is to begin at around 10:30 am (0930 GMT) and usually lasts around an hour with a mixture of prayers and religious instruction from the pope. - With reports from Edwin Llobrera/Rappler.com, and the Agence France-Presse