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Pope holds final mass before stepping down

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VATICAN CITY– Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his last Ash Wednesday as pontiff on Wednesday.

The pope shocked the church earlier this week with his surprise announcement that he is stepping down at the end of the month.

Wednesday marked, what is believed to be, Benedict XVI his last mass as pope.

He welcomed thousands of pilgrims from around the world in his first public appearance since his announcement.

In the meantime, more details emerged as to when the conclave, the process for the election of the new pope, may take place.

Father John Wauk, Pontifical University of Holy Cross, said, “Given the surprise of the pope’s decision to resign, it would be a big mistake to rule out any possible surprises in the choice of the next pope.”

On Feb. 27, the day before Benedict XVI abdicates the position, he’s going to have a chance to have a general audience in Saint Peter’s Square.

Organizers say it would give Catholics around the world the ability to say farewell to the pope who decided to do away with tradition and step aside for the first time in modern history.

Experts say there could be a new pope as early as March 15.