Pope Benedict XVI's surprise announcement that the Roman Catholic Church will be without a leader at the end of this month starts the wheels in motion on the process to choose his successor -- and three Canadians will be taking part in the process.

The three will be among the 120 Cardinals who hold a conclave at the Vatican to elect a new pope in March, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto Neil McCarthy said Monday in an interview with CTV's Canada AM.

Cardinal Thomas Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto will be there, approximately one year after he was elevated to the College of Cardinals in February, 2012.

In addition, retired cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal is also eligible to vote. That's because, under church rules for all retired cardinals, the 76-year-old remains eligible to vote until he's 80.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet will also take part in the conclave.

As the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops, where he has been working closely with Pope Benedict XVI, Ouellet's name has already emerged among those considered front-runners to succeed the pontiff.

Other names already making headlines include the high-profile archbishops of Milan and Vienna, Cardinal Angelo Scola and Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, as well the highest-ranking African cardinal at the Vatican, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana.

When asked about the names already considered as top candidates to take on the papacy, Father Thomas Rosica of the Salt and Light Catholic television network cites an old Italian proverb, "that says if you go into the conclave as a pope you come out as a cardinal."

Rosica said there may indeed be stronger voices among the cardinals, and the headlines may focus on them, but the decision is really made once the doors to the conclave are closed.

"Once they go into the conclave, it's their work and it's the Holy Spirit at work with them," Rosica told Canada AM.

According to Roman Catholic tradition, the conclave occurs behind closed doors at the Sistine Chapel. After each round of voting, the ballots are burned. Black smoke signals they've not reached a decision, while white smoke means the new pope has been elected.