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Will Catholics embrace change? The view from one parish in Rome

Keir Simmons / NBC News

Built in the 1970s, Rome's Our Lady of Guadalupe brings together a community of elderly and young families.

ROME -- Only a couple of miles from the Vatican, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a parish church much like thousands of others around the world.

Yet even in this relatively small congregation there are examples of division between those who want to look to the future and others who hope to hold on to the past – a rift that is reflected right the way up to the College of Cardinals gathering this week to choose the new pope.

Built in the 1970s, Our Lady of Guadalupe brings together a community of elderly and young families. During Mass, children sit at the front so that the priest can speak directly to them. The young generation is the center of the congregation.

Asked what he wants from the next pope, parishioner Dario Appetiti holds his wife's hand and gently rocks the buggy in which his 14 month old son, Lorenzo is resting.

There will be no more press conferences from U.S. Cardinals in Rome. A series of press briefings were a popular way of providing information, but provoked ire in some quarters.  NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

“I think it's important that he will be able to reach the young people,” he says.

Many of the older members of this local church agree, but they aren't sure that the church should modernize too fast.

“I think it's tough because they're used to the pope waiting until he passes away,” says Father Brian Coe, a priest from Annapolis, Md., who is working at Our Lady of Guadalupe as part of his introduction to priesthood.

He explains that he sees wisdom in Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to abdicate, but that for older Italians it was a break from tradition that was hard to comprehend.

“Many Italians would like to see another Italian pope,” Coe says. But some of the cardinals who have arrived from around the world are hoping to look beyond Europe.

'Change must come'
The church's name comes from a celebrated icon of the Virgin Mary found in Mexico City. Some believe a pope from Latin America, Africa or Asia would help the church usher in a new era.

“No matter who it is, these people will follow him, because they believe he is the vicar of Christ,” says Father Dermot Ryan, an Irish priest who also preaches at Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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The pope delivers his final audience in St. Peter's Square as he prepares to stand down.

He is a traditionalist but says change is inevitable. “There will be changes and certainly, as in all institutions, I think change must come,” he says.

One reason there must be change, he recognizes, is the sex-abuse scandals that have rocked the church. “It's very sad to see what has happened.” As a younger priest he thought the abuse was “just rumors”. But now “all this blows up and I realize it wasn't just rumors,” Ryan says.

“Many other storms have hit the church in other centuries. This is one storm that has hit now, and I think we're pulling through, we're getting out of it. There are so many good faithful people working in the church for the good of all.”

With more than a billion followers worldwide, different views within the Catholic Church are inevitable – and are reflected within the College of Cardinals whose discussions this week in Rome are already shaping the outcome of the yet-to-be announced papal conclave.

“I can imagine these meetings getting a bit chippy, challenging, interesting... hard-hitting at certain points," said George Weigel, NBC News' Vatican analyst.

But even the smallest congregations agree on what is important, according to Ryan. “Simple people who believe and come to Mass ... they want to reach out for the weak, to listen to words of God.”

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Full coverage of the papal abdication from NBC News