Before Retreating to Secretive Conclave, Papal Candidates Hold Mass in Titular Churches Across Rome

Norberto Rivera, one of four Mexican cardinals partaking in the conclave, gave mass at the church San Francesco a Ripa.

Norberto Rivera, one of four Mexican cardinals partaking in the conclave, gave mass at the church San Francesco a Ripa.  (Bryan Llenas, Fox News Latino)

In one of their last public appearances before retreating to closed-door deliberations which will culminate with the selection of the next supreme leader for millions of Catholics around the world, cardinals held morning mass on Sunday in some of the hundreds of small, intimate churches lining cobblestone streets.

The scenes inside the Titular Churches -- more than 140 churches traditionally assigned to cardinals in parishes throughout the city -- showcased the diversity of nationalities, language and culture representing the Catholic faithful in attendance.

Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York who’s well-liked but still considered a long shot as a pick for pope, visited his Titular Church entrusted to him called "Our Lady of Guadalupe," in Monte Mario, largely an immigrant community in Rome which is home to Peruvians, Mexicans and Filipinos.

Mexican immigrants arrived in Italy following the Mexican Revolution a century ago -- Dolan is the first non-Mexican cardinal assigned to the modest church since it opened in 1932.

It was a rockstar welcome for Dolan, who entered the church greeted by a standing-room crowd five rows deep.

"This is the life of the church, Sunday mass, which is so important and I'm eager to get a new pope and to get back home," Dolan said, never failing to forget his trademark humor: "I'm running out of socks."

Meanwhile in the small Saint Andrew of Quirinale Church, dozens of journalists trailed Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, reportedly one of the favorites heading into the conclave. If picked, he’d become the first Latin American pope ever.

"We're all preparing for the conclave," Scherer said outside the church,  adding that the conclave is "certainly a difficult time, but also a joyful one and full of hope."

Supporters came from all over the world to see Scherer, the Archbishop of São Paolo, who entered the church from the outside in rather dramatic fashion.

"I came all the way from Brazil just to see the mass," Sergio Comolate, who trekked here with his wife, told Fox News Latino.

As perhaps a sign of Scherer’s international recognition and support, there were people from various nationalities that came out to see him.

"I am here to see the future pope, I hope," said Father Chester Misiewicz of Winster, Mass. “I think he is open to the needs of the poor and to the Western Hemisphere."

Felipe Argas, 37, a Spaniard who lives in Rome, came to pray that the Holy Spirit will pick an ideal candidate but admitted, "I would like to see Scherer, but ultimately it's what the Holy Spirit decides."

The festive scenes for cardinal hopefuls Dolan and Scherer were repeated across this ancient city.

Norberto Rivera, one of four Mexican cardinals partaking in the conclave, gave mass across town at San Francesco a Ripa. Inside the church, Rivera gave his sermon in Italian.

Rivera is one of the few cardinals here who also participated in the last conclave, in 2005 when Benedict XVI was picked.  Rivera said the two outings have been very different.

"The world has changed very quickly in 8 years," he said. "I don't think the conclave will be very long, there are diverse opinions but we will come to a consensus quickly.”

The Mexican cardinal also emphasized that the cardinals are not choosing a pope based on the region of the world he represents, and that various political scandals that given the Catholic Church a black eye will not negatively impact the selection of a new pope.

The conclave  begins Tuesday, but Sunday offered a chance for the cardinals and the church to get back to the basics.

The Titular churches are now symbolic, and in many cases are regarded as the national churches. Back in the fourth century, they were meeting places for members of the clergy and people of Rome, who at that time elected the new pope together.

Today, the process is wrapped in much more secrecy and exclusivity, but Dolan assured the end is near and a new pope is in sight.

"It's starting,” Dolan said. "A week ago we would have said 'wow we got a lot of work to do, but now you see a sense of resignation and trust.’"

Bryan Llenas currently serves as a New York-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). Click here for more information on Bryan Llenas. Follow him on Twitter @BryanLlenas.