The College of Cardinals has voted in their eighth General Congregation to begin the papal conclave on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. The College will vote in that conclave, which is held privately in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, to elect a new Roman Pontiff to lead the Catholic Church.

A new pope must receive a two-thirds super-majority vote. At the 2005 papal conclave that followed the death of Blessed John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI was elected after four ballot cycles, with at least two ballots held each day during the conclave. As such, it is possible (though not certain) that a new pope will be elected before the end of next week.

Of the 117 cardinals under the age of eighty who are eligible to vote in the conclave, 115 will participate. The other two cardinals have excused themselves from the proceedings for personal or health reasons.

Pope Benedict XVI resigned the papacy at the end of February, the first pontiff to do so in nearly six hundred years. Once elected, his successor will be the 266th Bishop of Rome—an office first held by Saint Peter, whom Christ had appointed head of the church (cf. Matthew 16:19)—and will be responsible for shepherding the world’s 1.16 billion Catholics.