(FOX)--With Pope Benedict XVI resigning, 1.2 billion Catholics world wide will be getting a new pontiff sooner than first thought. Pope Benedict is stepping down due to fatigue and aging at the end of February. Current rules call for a 15 to 20 day waiting period before the conclave begins.
But the Vatican now says it's possible the meeting to choose the successor could start sooner than March 15th, the earliest day it could begin.
Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi says, "The constitution also says this is to allow time for the arrival of all those who may need that time to arrive. However, if all cardinals had already arrived, there would be nobody to wait for."
The start of the conclave is of particular importance due to the upcoming Holy Week, including Palm Sunday and Easter. A new pontiff would have to be installed by March 17th to have a leader in place for that liturgical period.
Pope Benedict held his final private audiences on Saturday.