As Pope Benedict XVI makes history on Feb 28 by stepping down as leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the first to do so in 600 years, the world's eyes are on Vatican City.
The seat of the Catholic Church will be bursting with the faithful, media, clergy and the curious who would want to be part of the historic moment as the pope makes his final public appearance as pontiff.
However, in the following days, as Pope Emeritus - his new title now - fades into retirement - the focus will be on the forthcoming conclave that will elect his successor. The conclave itself has generated controversy because some of the cardinal participants are accused of sexual abuse, leading one - Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien - to withdraw his participation and even resign from his post.
While the decision lies in the hands of the 117 cardinals, American Catholics, if they had a say in the selection process, prefer the next pope to come from a third world country.
A Pew Research Center survey said that 60 per cent of U.S. Catholics are in favour of an Asian, African or South American pope. The last two popes, as the majority of the 265 past pontiffs, were Europeans. Pope Benedict is German and Pope Paul II was Polish.
"American Catholics are aware that no other North American group is an important to the Church as Latinos. It's not surprising how attracted they are to having a pope from south of the equator," Foxnews quoted Paul Lakeland, a religious studies professor at the Fairfield University in Connecticut.
The preference for a third world pope appears to be linked to a preference for a more liberal pope who would address controversial popular issues in a 21st century perspective such as the church's mandatory celibacy requirements for priests.
But Mr Lakeland admits that chances of a third world pope are not so bright because while the growth of members is concentrated in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the bulk of the Church's problem is in Europe.
Meanwhile, Australian Cardinal George Pell has expressed the impact of Pope Benedict's resignation on the papacy.
"People who, for example, might disagree with a future pope will mount a campaign to get him to resign," Seven Network quoted the cardinal.
On Wednesday, the retiring pope admitted feeling the weight of the difficult days the Church was going through the past few months.
"The Lord gave us days of sun and of light breeze, days in which the fishing was good. There were also moments when there were stormy waters and headwinds . . . as if God was sleeping," Pope Benedict said.
About 150,000 pilgrims are expected to be in Vatican on Thursday, the day Pope Benedict makes his exit. While most people will be watching the chimney of the Sistine Chapel for the white smoke as the indicator that a new pope has been elected, others would be watching eBay and other online sites as people place their Pope Benedict XVI memorabilia for auction.