What Does the Pope Do, Anyway?
Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation in February, citing his deteriorating mental and physical health
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Updated March 13 at 4:02 p.m. ET.

The Catholic church has a new pope: Francis I. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the 76-year-old will take the helm of the church less than a month after Pope Benedict XVI's retirement. It's unclear so far how Francis I will lead, but one thing is for sure: The new pontiff will have a grueling schedule.

The recently retired Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, John Paul II, both worked days that could stretch from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. or even midnight, said Don Briel, the director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. 

"The papacy has assumed a much more visible, prominent role and has become, as a result, much more exhausting in terms of its obligations," Briel told Live Science. [Holy Dream Team? The Most Notorious Catholic Saints]

A pope's duties

The broad job description for the role of pope is the head of the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome. The pope is also the head of the sovereign city-state, Vatican City.

What this means on a daily basis is that the pope, in this case Pope Francis I, has duties both political and religious. The pope meets with heads of state and maintains diplomatic relationships with more than 100 nations. He conducts liturgies, appoints new bishops and travels.

He doesn't, however, work like a corporate CEO, dipping into the local and daily workings of regional parishes, Briel said.

"He's looking at a very broad overview of the universal church, the church as a whole," he said. [Saint or Slacker? Test Your Religious Knowledge]

A typical day starts early, with a private mass attended by household staff, Briel said. After breakfast, the morning might be spent writing epistles, or formal communications, as well as other works of religious scholarship. Much of the rest of the day is likely to be spent in meetings with bishops and political leaders from around the world.

The pope also ministers directly to the faithful, greeting pilgrims at General Audiences, which usually attract between several thousand and tens of thousands of people. Briel attended Benedict's last General Audience in Rome in February, which drew 200,000, he said. 

Around important holidays, such as Easter, the pope delivers major liturgies in St. Peter's Cathedral or elsewhere in Rome. He also travels around the world, conducting masses for audiences that fill football stadiums.

Between popes

These nonstop duties are relatively new, Briel said. Before Pope Paul VI, who held office from 1963 to 1978, popes rarely traveled and had fewer political duties. As the church has become more of a diplomatic force, the role has become more demanding to meet the extra responsibilities.  

When the papacy is vacant, however, all these activities come to a stop. All of the curial offices remain in suspension, Briel said. So no major decisions were made, and no new bishops were appointed during the conclave.

"The cardinals as a congregation have a general responsibility to make routine decisions, but nothing fundamentally of an extraordinary nature, so it's simply in a state of pause," Briel said before Francis I's election.

Email Stephanie Pappas or follow her @sipappas. Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience, Facebook or Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.