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One Italian in the crowd seemed to be doing a little campaigning, hoisting a sign which mentioned the names of two Italian cardinals considered by observers to be potential contenders in the selection of the next pontiff.

Flags in the crowd represented many nations, with a large number from Brazil.

The cardinals in the conclave will have to decide whether it’s time to look outside of Europe for a pope. The papacy was considered the realm of Italian prelates for centuries, until a Pole, John Paul II, was elected as pontiff in 1978, to be followed in 2005 by the German-born Benedict.

Crucially, Italian prelates have continued to run the behind-the-scenes machinery of the church’s governance, and cardinals likely will be deciding what role the Italians might have played in a series of scandals clouding the central bureaucracy, including allegations of corruption and power-grabbing.

Benedict has not made any direct comment on details of the scandals.

In one of his last papal tweets, Benedict wrote Sunday in English: “In these momentous days, I ask you to pray for me and for the church, trusting as always in divine providence.”

AP reporter Paolo Santalucia contributed to this article.