Chicago's Francis Cardinal George leaves for the Vatican on Tuesday, but he took the opportunity to talk about the process of choosing a new pope while presiding over an afternoon service at Holy Name Cathedral.
He told those attending the service that now is the time to have unity. It was also time to have a very open heart.
There was a call for prayer by Cardinal George as Roman Catholic leaders prepare to pick the next pope.
"It's an intense moment because it's taken very seriously and we'll see what the other cardinals have to say," he said. "All of us come with our own experiences and our sense of what's important. We'll share that and then we'll see where we should go."
A cancer-free George, who leaves for Rome Tuesday, spoke after presiding over a service this afternoon at Holy Name Cathedral.
Although no American cardinal has been elected pope, Cardinal George said that's not so far-fetched.
"He has to be a man able to govern with some courage and also prudence," he said. "Those characteristics can be found in a lot of different people from different places, but it's the person who counts."
St. Peter's Square was full as Pope Benedict XVI made his second-to-last public appearance before he steps down on Thursday.
He's the first pope in six centuries to do so willingly.
In his address, Benedict reassured Catholics that he was not abandoning them or the church.
"I've got great faith in Christ and the hierarchy of the church and I think the cardinals will be able to choose the next church leader," said Larry Glines.
But Barbara Blaine of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says it's important that the next pope continue to address the ongoing issue.
"I'm hoping the new pope will make a direct turnaround and really put protecting children first," Blaine said.
Meanwhile, some parishioners wonder what is next for a church body in transition.
"His presence and people knowing about the reasons that he stepped down is going to be helpful in choosing the next pope," said Anna Sander.
Cardinal George said the specific date for the conclave will not be available until after the actual resignation date of the current pope.