Catholics young and old are gathering for fervent prayer around the clock in Rome to support cardinals entering a secret conclave to choose a new pope after Benedict XVI's surprise resignation.
"We'll be praying for the cardinals until a decision is made, it's the part we play in the conclave," said sister Celestina, 62, a nun from Croatia.
"The Church is like a boat, all the faithful are sailing in it together but we're without a helmsman at the moment," she said, kneeling to pray in front of a portrait of John Paul II in the Santo Spirito in Sassia church in Rome.
A stone's throw from the Sistine Chapel where 115 cardinals will choose a new pope, young Catholics from all over the world were turning not to Benedict, but to his much-loved and charismatic predecessor to guide the electors.
"We have been to pray at John Paul II's tomb, to ask for his intervention and prays, and place our trust in him," said Fabien Lambert, chaplain of the 12th-century Saint Lawrence in Piscibus church and international youth centre in Rome.
"We are holding non-stop prayers here, day and night, asking people to come and support the cardinals with their prayers," the 34-year-old Belgian said.
St. Peter's Square is teeming with the faithful, who weave among the tourists to stand in front of the basilica and gaze up at the balcony where the new pope will make his first appearance to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
Priests, monks and nuns crossing the Via della Conciliazione leading from Rome's Tiber river to the Vatican are pounced on by hordes of journalists keen for interviews to feed their 24-hour media coverage.
"This conclave is not all about the journalists. Beyond the drama and intrigue over who will be chosen pope, we must remember our spiritual mission and pray for a man who we can see in his eyes is God's witness," Lambert said.
Roger Seogo, a priest from Burkino Faso in west Africa, said there had been a lot of talk about whether the new pope could come from Africa or Asia in a break from tradition. But for him, nationality or culture was irrelevant.
"We need someone able to provide the Church with what it needs in today's world, someone who will help it open up to the world and listen to the people, really hear the concerns of the faithful," the cheerful 41-year-old said.
Pre-conclave talks held among cardinals gathered in Rome after Benedict's resignation appeared to focus on the problems afflicting the Curia -- the Vatican's unruly governing body -- and its distance from the grassroots.
Some electors also called for the Vatican to show them a secret report carried out into the leaks scandal which hit the Roman Catholic Church last year, containing allegations of intrigue, infighting and backstabbing within the Holy See.
"It's a dangerous period. The Church is much more divided now than it has ever been, and it is with trepidation and concern that we wait for the decision as to who is chosen," said Nicholas Gruner, a 70-year old priest from Montreal.
"If they don't choose the right pope, it could make the situation a lot worse. We may not deserve a good pope as sinners, but we certainly need one."
Gruner said he was disappointed the Vatican had not made the so-called "Vatileaks" report available to the cardinals: "There is corruption in the Vatican which needs to be fixed, and they need all the information available."
Saverio, a white-haired 71-year-old Italian architect, said he had taken time off work to come to St. Peter's Square.
"The Church's biggest problem is its estrangement from the real world. Priests don't care about others any more, nuns live in their own world," he said, lit up against the Vatican in a shocking blue and pink tracksuit jacket.
"At first, popes were elected by the Christian people, in squares like this one. Now it all takes place among a select few, behind closed doors," he said.
At his tiny church in Rome, where he leads his young congregation in sung prayer by candlelight, Lambert said that the world today demanded an exceptional pope.
"With such challenges in the world, we need someone who has an international knowledge, is a strong man, a pastor, a theologian, a man who can govern.
"I have the impression that the challenges are so great that there is no cardinal who can completely respond to the needs of the Church," he said.
But the handsome chaplain has a few favourites he is quietly praying for.
"I particularly like (Luis Antonio) Tagle from the Philippines. He's young, engaging, dynamic -- I'm also a fan of (Vienna's Christoph) Schoenborn. He keeps things simple and I think would rouse the young faithful," he said.