New Pope Expected by Easter

The spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI, shocked the world Monday by saying he is resigning.

The pontiff says, while his mind is good, he is simply too physically weak at age 85 to carry out his obligations.

Pope Benedict is stepping down, effective Feb. 28.

It's the first time a pope has stepped down in nearly 600 years.

The leader of Meridian's Catholic community, the Rev. Father Frank Cosgrove, says the next pope will be selected by the conclave of cardinals within the coming weeks.

"They will gather together in Rome, all the cardinals throughout the world, and I think there's about 120 of them," said Cosgrove. "And then they will elect the new pope. It's a very secret ballot. You know about the white smoke and the black smoke, the signals that come out of the Sistine Chapel."

Cosgrove referred to the tradition of burning the ballots after each vote. Black smoke means a failed ballot. White smoke means a new pope has been chosen.

A spokesman for the Vatican says there will be a new pope by Easter.