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Pope Benedict XVI worked 18-hour days doing what, exactly?

Pope Benedict XVI's replacement will follow in the grueling footsteps of the emeritus pontiff and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. How do popes fill their long days?

By Stephanie PappasLiveScience / March 4, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI (r) is greeted by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada in Cologne, Germany, in August 2005. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, one of the leading candidates to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, suggested in an interview broadcast today that other papal candidates might do a better job.

Pier Paolo Cito/Pool/Reuters/File

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As the Catholic Church's cardinals gather in Rome to set a date for the selection of a new pope, there is no clear front-runner for the job. But one thing is for sure: The next pontiff will have a grueling schedule.

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The recently retired Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, John Paul II, both worked days that could stretch from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. or even midnight, said Don Briel, the director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

"The papacy has assumed a much more visible, prominent role and has become, as a result, much more exhausting in terms of its obligations," Briel told LiveScience.

A pope's duties

The broad job description for the role of pope is the head of the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome. The pope is also the head of the sovereign city-state, Vatican City.

What this means on a daily basis is that the pope has duties both political and religious. The pope meets with heads of state and maintains diplomatic relationships with more than 100 nations. He conducts liturgies, appoints new bishops and travels.

He doesn't, however, work like a corporate CEO, dipping into the local and daily workings of regional parishes, Briel said.

"He's looking at a very broad overview of the universal church, the church as a whole," he said. [Saint or Slacker? Test Your Religious Knowledge]

A typical day starts early, with a private mass attended by household staff, Briel said. After breakfast, the morning might be spent writing epistles, or formal communications, as well as other works of religious scholarship. Much of the rest of the day is likely to be spent in meetings with bishops and political leaders from around the world.

The pope also ministers directly to the faithful, greeting pilgrims at General Audiences, which usually attract between several thousand and tens of thousands of people. Briel attended Benedict's last General Audience in Rome in February, which drew 200,000, he said. 

Around important holidays, such as Easter, the pope delivers major liturgies in St. Peter's Cathedral or elsewhere in Rome. He also travels around the world, conducting masses for audiences that fill football stadiums.

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