VATICAN CITY - Sunday was a day of rest and observance of the Christian Sabbath in Rome for cardinals preparing to elect a new leader of the Catholic Church, but the upcoming papal election dogged Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, two leading American contenders for the papacy.
The Vatican urged the cardinals to attend their assigned parish in Rome, or "titular see," for a day of reflection on Sunday. So Dolan went to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Monte Mario, Italy, which he had led since he was elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI last year.
As Dolan left the church, which is a 20-minute drive from the Vatican City, he fired his usual quick wit to the reporters and hinted he wanted the papal election to end quickly.
"I'm ready to go home. I ran out of socks," Dolan said.
In an earlier interview with Sirius XM, Dolan said there was much to celebrate on the fourth Sunday of Lent, known as "Rejoice Sunday."
"There is a spirit of joy. There's a spirit of joy among the College of Cardinals, because I think we have the seventh inning stretch today and we know the bottom of the ninth is in view. Because we're going to have the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Tuesday morning and we'll enter, officially, the conclave on Tuesday afternoon," Dolan said.
Aaron Calton, a theology student from Ohio, was visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe with his family and was in awe of viewing one of the potential papal candidates.
"To be even able to talk about an American pope, I think it's a tremendous change and a tremendous move forward for the church," Calton said. "Everybody's talking about a possible American pope, a possible South American pope, a possible African pope."
"I think it's been wonderful for the Archdiocese of New York, I think it's been wonderful for America," said Maria Maida, a New York worshipper at Our Lady of Guadalupe. "He's a lovable guy."
"The crowd liked that, he said, 'Don't tell the people of New York, it's a secret -- you're my favorite parish after St. Patrick's [Cathedral],'" said a clergyman who also attended the service.
The significance of this Mass possibly being the last Dolan celebrates as a cardinal was not lost on the residents of Monte Mario in Our Lady of Guadalupe.
"I think it is very possible he could be pope," an Italian parishioner said through an interpreter. "He's confident, he has authority, he's very strong."
Meanwhile, in Our Lady of Victory Church in Rome, it was standing-room only at a Mass officiated by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who is seen as another leading American candidate for pope.
A nun in the crowd, Sister Bernadette Reis of the Daughters of St. Paul, was not sure whether someone from the United States could become the next pontiff.
"The United States has exported its culture worldwide, so in terms of that it's kind of hard in other countries that this is also going to be an American-type influence, you know what I mean? A superpower," Sister Bernadette said. "So now I'm not sure. However, the church always needs to transcend even those paradigms."
The cardinals will hold a meeting on Monday morning and are expected to move into residence within the Vatican City by that evening.
On Tuesday morning, the cardinals will hold a Mass, enter the Sistine Chapel and hold their first round of anonymous balloting.
If no one is elected in the initial vote, cardinals will increase voting Wednesday, casting ballots twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon for the rest of the week.
If no pope is elected by Friday, voting is suspended for Saturday, which would be a day of prayer.
Church officials hope to have a new leader in place before Holy Week, which starts on Palm Sunday, March 24.