KNOXVILLE (WATE) – An election of international religious significance has a Knoxville connection.
A Catholic cardinal based in Knoxville belongs to the College of Cardinals. They will elect the new pope.
Cardinal Justin Rigali got back to Knoxville after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He's now heading to Rome to be one of 116 cardinals from around the world choosing a new pontiff.
On Sunday morning, a mass was held at Sacred Heart Cathedral to send the cardinal off to Rome with prayer.
The mass came just hours after Pope Benedict XVI gave his final Sunday blessing from his studio window in St. Peter's Square.
"I feel like it's an important mission to be one of the electors of the new pope," said Cardinal Rigali, in an interview with 6 News.
He says once the pontiff retires, the College of Cardinals electing the new pope will have a series of meetings and discussions.
"Finally after a period of prayer, the cardinals will go into the conclave. That's where the voting actually takes place, in the conclave. We don't know how long that'll take," Cardinal Rigali explained.
David Wells and his family don't usually make it into Sunday mass as early as 9 a.m. However, they tell us this was an opportunity they did not want to miss.
"We feel like we have a little bit of a voice in the conclave. So we're very excited about that," Wells said.
The mass for Cardinal Rigali does come at a time with rumors that the pope stepped down in the middle of a sex scandal.
"There will always be things that come up, but the conclave is not about scandal," said Cardinal Rigali, about what's going on in the media.
"If we obey the command of God, we don't have scandals," he added.
Cardinal Rigali will leave to Rome on Tuesday. There is a big send-off planned for him at the Knoxville airport at 11:45 am.
Any members of the public who want to say goodbye are welcome to go to the airport.
Cardinal Rigali will meet with the pope on Thursday morning. Sometime after meeting with the cardinals, the pope is expected to step down.