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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?

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Between popes

These nonstop duties are relatively new, Briel said. Before Pope Paul VI, who held office from 1963 to 1978, popes rarely traveled and had fewer political duties. As the church has become more of a diplomatic force, the role has become more demanding to meet the extra responsibilities.  

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When the papacy is vacant, however, all these activities come to a stop. All of the curial offices are in suspension, Briel said. No major decisions are made, and no new bishops are appointed.

"The cardinals as a congregation have a general responsibility to make routine decisions, but nothing fundamentally of an extraordinary nature, so it's simply in a state of pause," Briel said.

Cardinals under the age of 80 are now meeting to set a date for the papal conclave, which will decide the new pope. The current speculation is that the conclave will start March 11, Briel said, which should give the cardinals enough time to have a new pope in Rome in time for the liturgical responsibilities of Easter.

If the decision takes longer than that — and it may, as there is no clear front-runner for the position — Easter Mass will go on. A cardinal not busy with the secretive meetings of the conclave will preside. The most likely candidate for that job is Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the college of cardinals, who is 85.

"Since he's over 80, he's not in the conclave," Briel said. 

Email Stephanie Pappas or follow her @sipappas. Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience, Facebook or Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

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