The secret deliberations and voting to elect a new Pope are to begin next Tuesday, the Vatican has announced.
Last week, Pope Benedict became the first Pope to step down since 1415, citing his advanced age and failing health. Now, 115 cardinals have arrived in Rome to begin the process of choosing a sucessor.
The Sistine Chapel, where the conclave will take place, has been closed to the public, with Vatican staff installing the two stoves that will produce white smoke from burnt ballot papers when a new pope is elected by a two-thirds majority.
"The eighth General Congregation of the College of Cardinals has decided that the Conclave will begin on Tuesday, 12 March 2013," said a statement sent by the Vatican press office.
"A pro eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass will be celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica in the morning. In the afternoon the cardinals will enter into the Conclave."
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement earlier on Friday that the Holy See “is vacant but does not stop”.
Separately, cardinals have marked International Women's Day on Friday by offering a bouquet of mimosas with a rose to a female journalist "in representation of all women". It is a Vatican custom to give flowers to the women who work in the Holy See today.