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Also in attendance Wednesday were cardinals over 80, who can’t participate in the conclave but will participate in meetings next week to discuss the problems facing the church and the qualities needed in a new pope.
"I am joining the entire church in praying that the cardinal electors will have the help of the Holy Spirit," Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, 82, said.
Herranz has been authorized by the pope to brief voting-age cardinals on his investigation into the leaks of papal documents that exposed corruption in the Vatican administration.
Vatican officials say cardinals will begin meeting Monday to decide when to set the date for the conclave.
But the rank-and-file faithful in the crowd weren’t so concerned with the future; they wanted to savor the final moments with the pope they have known for years.
"I came to thank him for the testimony that he has given the church," said Maria Cristina Chiarini, a 52-year-old homemaker who traveled by train from Lugo in central Italy with about 60 members of her parish. "There’s nostalgia, human nostalgia, but also comfort, because as a Christian we have hope. The Lord won’t leave us without a guide."
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