The conclave to elect the next pope will begin on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. The 115 cardinal electors (PDF) are expected to deliberate for a period lasting from one day to a week or more. The 2005 conclave that chose Benedict XVI lasted two days, while the election of Gregory X in 1271 took more than two years.
Just as the world’s Catholic population is spread across the globe, the cardinal electors – members of the College of Cardinals who had not yet reached their 80th birthday on Feb. 28, the day the papacy became vacant – have gathered from all regions of the world. According to Pew Research Center data on the distribution of the world’s Catholic population, the region with the largest share of the Catholic population is Latin America and the Caribbean (39%), while 24% of the world’s Catholics live in Europe. According to the Catholic News Service, fully half of the cardinal electors are European (52%), and just 17% come from Latin America. In fact, 24% of the cardinal electors are from Italy, though less than 5% of the world’s Catholic population is Italian. Prior to the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978, all the popes since the early 16th century had come from Italy.