(CNN) -- The last cardinal summoned to choose the next pope is expected to arrive at the Vatican on Thursday, but the date for the conclave is not likely immediately to be set.
The church leaders are in the midst of discussing the pressing issues the Vatican is facing. Once they are satisfied with those discussions, the conclave, or secret election, to pick the next pontiff may begin at the cardinals' discretion.
With Easter around the corner, many inside the Catholic Church would like to see a new pontiff in place to lead ceremonies.
But the cardinal-electors, those aged under 80 who are eligible to vote for the new pontiff, are taking time to prepare -- and to get reacquainted.
The last to join their number is Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Vietnam, who Vatican officials said was due to arrive Thursday.
All the cardinals, including those older than 80, will gather Thursday for the meetings known as general congregations, one in the morning and a second in the afternoon.
Since Monday, they have been gathering for the closed-door discussion sessions, where the leaders of the church from around the world can informally discuss what is on their minds.
The conversations won't be that brutally political, but everyone in the room is sizing up everyone else, as one of them will become the new pontiff. It's also a time to pray and reflect.
As did Benedict XVI, the next pope will inherit the legacy of the child sex abuse scandal that has shaken the church. According to a recent Pew research poll, U.S. Catholics see it as the most pressing issue the Vatican faces.
A group representing alleged victims of sex abuse has protested at the Vatican and published a list of potential popes they feel would be insensitive to the issue and possibly work to sweep it under the rug again.
Some of the discussions happen over coffee, as one Vatican spokesman revealed Monday, the first day of the general congregations.
"There's a coffee break for about 30 minutes at a special buffet area in the front part of the audience hall," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica. "Cardinals have an opportunity to go down and mix and mingle."
"They want to say what the next pope will hear, because he's probably in that room, and they also want to alert the people who haven't spent so much time in Rome just what the situation really is here as they see it," Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said.
The electors also want to go into the conclave with pretty clear ideas about whom to vote for, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said. They, too, have no interest in seeing it drag on, and there is no reason to believe that it will.
The past 11 conclaves have lasted no longer than four days, the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, wrote on its website.
That wasn't always the case. In the 13th century, the election of one pope took two years and nine months, the diocese said. Catholics grew so angry at the cardinals' indecision from 1268 to 1271, when Gregory X was elected, that they boarded them up in their chamber and tore off the roof to expose them to the elements.
The fiasco led to the creation of the conclave and its precise protocol -- partly to expedite the process.
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