Vatican City, March 5 - The "general congregations", a series of pre-conclave meetings of cardinals at the Vatican, entered their third day on Wednesday. The meetings enable the cardinals to get to know each other better, share ideas about what characteristics the next leader of the Catholic Church should have and establish a date for the conclave to elect the successor of Benedict XVI, who stepped down last week. Over 140 cardinals are taking part in the congregations, but fewer, 115, will participate in the conclave because only those under 80 are eligible to vote. There had been speculation that the cardinals would want to move quickly in order to have a new pontiff installed before Palm Sunday, March 24, so he could preside over the Holy Week ceremonies that lead up to Easter. But Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Tuesday that the cardinals gathered in Rome are in "no rush" to set a date for the conclave. Lombardi said it was significant that the cardinals opted not to hold afternoon sessions Tuesday and Wednesday, after holding two sessions on Monday, as it suggests they intend to take their time. The spokesman, one of the non-cardinals present during the congregations, said he sensed that the cardinals wanted to "understand how long is needed to properly prepare for such an important event without hurrying things in any way". Benedict changed the rules for the conclave in his final days as pontiff to make it possible for it to be held before the 15-20 days after the end of the previous papacy, given that he had stepped down, not died, and there was no funeral to organise. Many experts have said Monday March 11 is a possible starting date for the conclave. Hong Kong bishop John Tong Hon, one of the last cardinal electors set to come to Rome for the conclave, arrived in the Italian capital early on Wednesday.