More than 100,000 people gathered Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, in St. Peter's Square for Pope Benedict XVI's next-to-last Angelus prayer, listening attentively as the pontiff asked them to pray for him.

"In this year of faith, Lent is a favorable time to rediscover the faith in God as the basic criterion of our life and the life of the church," the pope said.

Benedict XVI announced last Monday that he planned to step down from the papacy on Feb. 28, becoming the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.

The bishop of Rome urged the faithful to not use God for their own material gain.

The papal conclave to elect the successor to Pope Benedict XVI could begin prior to March 15 if all the cardinal electors are in Rome before that date, Vatican Press Office director Federico Lombardi said Saturday.

Under the Holy See's constitution, the conclave should begin between 15 and 20 days after the papacy becomes vacant to give time for all of the cardinals to arrive in Rome, Lombardi said.

The pope will travel on Feb. 28 to the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Rome, and will stay there until restoration work has been completed on a monastery within the Vatican that will serve as his retirement home, the Vatican Press Office director said. EFE