A conclave is not the Iowa caucuses. There will be little ideological clash and change in political stances almost certainly won't happen.
At 8 p.m Thursday, the reign of the 265th Pope, the 264th successor of St. Peter, came to an end, having lasted 7 years, 10 months, and 9 days.
As Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican for the last time as the reigning pontiff three hours earlier, pilgrims and admirers came to St. Peter's Square to see his white helicopter fly away.
As jumbo-tron screens showed the final moments -- Benedict saying goodbye to the Roman curia, then waving to the crowd one last time before entering the helicopter -- many could be seen wiping away tears.
John Allen in Rome:
Papabile of the day: In addition to Peter Turkson from Ghana, there's another African who could be an equally compelling choice for pope.
Cardinals Sean O'Malley of Boston, Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Francis George of Chicago met the press for a half-hour at the North American College, home to American seminarians in Rome.
There wasn't much hard news out of the session, though it was interesting to hear each man speak briefly about how he plans to go about preparing for the papal election.
One interesting comment on that score came from George. In effect, he said the cardinals don't go about things all that differently than those of us who get paid to handicap papal candidates for a living.
Assuming tonight’s brief salute by Benedict XVI from his balcony at Castel Gandolfo isn’t really a substantive address, he likely delivered the last public remarks of his life this morning in which he'll quote a Catholic theologian.
If so, Benedict went out on a characteristic note, citing the modern thinker who’s had the greatest imprint on his own thinking –- Romano Guardini.
Now that Pope Benedict has granted his own wish to step down, the debate over his legacy is officially open.
Pope Benedict this morning met for last time with the College of Cardinals, promising "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor, who was likely in the room.
Rome analysis: The way in which Benedict is stepping off the stage may be reframing his legacy, perhaps providing a more generous optic for assessing the pope.
Rome dispatch: The last public day on the job for Pope Benedict was surprisingly intimate for a man known for his formal demeanor.