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Larger-than-usual crowd gathers for Pope's Sunday window blessing

With news that he will soon retire, a bigger-than-usual crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s traditional Sunday window blessing.

It was the first event since Pope Benedict XVI announced last Monday that he will retire at the end of February.

Vatican officials estimated a crowd of up to 150,000 people may have been present for Sunday’s blessing.

It also now appears that the Vatican may move up the Conclave to elect the next pope well before the originally planned March 15.

That original date would be two weeks after Benedict steps down, which follows the standard tradition of waiting two weeks.

That tradition, however, was intended for an election after a Pope’s death, not after a resignation.

The rule stipulating a 15-to-20 day waiting period after the Pope’s death was put into place in order to allow time for Cardinals to head to Rome for the Conclave.

With the pope giving advance notice of his resignation, that waiting period may not be needed after all, meaning as early as March 1 the Conclave could commence.