By Eric Marrapodi and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
(CNN) – Hours after Pope Benedict XVI's resignation announcement Monday, speculation was surging over who might be his successor and what part of the world the new pontiff could be from.
The 118 cardinals who will pick the next pope are also in the running for the job. Those cardinals are from around the globe, but more than half of them hail from European nations, according to Vatican statistics.
Worldwide, the demographic trends among the Roman Catholic Church's nearly 1.2 billion members show a different breakdown, with the church seeing only a trickle of new members in Europe, while membership has grown significantly in Africa.
So this time around, could the pope be from Africa, where growth has surged significantly, or from Latin America, a longtime bastion for the church?
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"It's always one of those exciting things. I bet there will be a line in Vegas, there probably already is," said Randall Woodard, an associate professor of theology at Saint Leo University.
"Especially based on the growth of Catholicism and ... the geographic shifts that have taken place, a lot of smart money would be on Africa or Central America."
Some stressed that the pope's geographic background shouldn't be a factor.
"All of the questions about nationalities are nonsense," said Michael Sean Winters, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. "There are 118 men, and all of them have gotten to know one another. ... Their questions are going to be 'who can we see in that chair?'"
For many in Italy, the choice is already clear, according to John Allen, CNN's senior Vatican analyst.
"Around the dinner tables today in Rome, Cardinal Angelo Scola has the pole position," Allen said Monday.
Scola, an Italian, is the archbishop of Milan.
Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican's office of bishops, is also a likely frontrunner, said Allen. And Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, an Argentinian who works as the Vatican prefect overseeing eastern churches, is well-known for his leadership and administrative skills, Allen said.
'The face of Catholicism'
Another top contender for the papacy could be Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, said Woodard, the managing editor of the International Journal of African Catholicism. The 64-year-old cardinal currently heads the pope's council for justice and peace and has experience working with people of different faiths, Woodard said.
"He would be able to respond to global needs and ... the reality of what the face of Catholicism is," Woodard said.
In Brazil - which leads the world with more than 133 million Catholics, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life - many were buzzing about Benedict's resignation announcement Monday.
"The country has a tradition of Catholicism, and any news related to the pope is very important news in Brazil. ... There are those experts saying that maybe the time has come for a cardinal from the developing world, Africa or Latin America, to ascend to the papacy," said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Catholic faithful gathered at a religious celebration in Brazil's capital Monday said they were surprised by the news of Benedict's resignation and hopeful that Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz might be picked for the papacy, the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency reported.
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But choosing the next pope is an issue that must rise above geographic borders, said the Reverend Emmanuel Katongole, a Catholic priest from Uganda's Kampala archdiocese who is an associate professor of theology and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
"Part of the frustration for me is that there is a thinking that Africa's challenges and the opportunities and the interests can only be advanced if we have an African pope," Katongole said. "I find it extremely frustrating when in my vision, the church is a transnational communion of believers whose identity and loyalty cuts across these geopolitical boundaries."
Cardinals prepare to decide
While people outside the church may focus on nationalities and race, within the church's top ranks, cardinals have "a very global vision," Woodard said.
"The pope has to be the visible shepherd of 1 billion Catholics in the world," said Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois. "I don't think going into the conclave the pope has to be of a certain nationality."
Other factors are important, Paprocki said, like the age of the next pope.
"It's a grueling and demanding schedule to keep up with," he said.
Pope Benedict, who is 85 years old, said Monday that he will resign at the end of the month "because of advanced age."
"Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," the pope said, according to the Vatican.
Age is also a factor for cardinals. Once a cardinal reaches 80, he is no longer able to participate in the election of the pope or enter the secret conclave where cardinals gather to select the next pope.
Of the 118 cardinals of voting age, 28 are from Italy, 34 are from elsewhere in Europe, 19 are from Latin America, 14 are from the United States and Canada, 11 are from Asia, 11 are from Africa and 1 is from Australia.
Cardinals will meet to choose Benedict's successor sometime after his official resignation on February 28, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said at a news conference.
"Before Easter, we will have the new pope," he said.
Benedict won't be involved in the decision, Lombardi said. But his influence will undoubtedly be felt. Benedict appointed 67 the 118 cardinals who will make the decision.
It's a choice that Cardinal Donald Wuerl said he doesn't take lightly.
"When we go into the conclave, what has to be upper in the minds of all of us is what is God asking of us in making a choice. Who will fill the chair of Peter? And I think that's going to be the only consideration," said Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. "Who among this body has the qualifications, the characteristics, the spiritual gifts to fill that chair?"
Wuerl told reporters that he was in his study at 5 a.m. Monday preparing a homily for Ash Wednesday when he found out about the pope's decision.
"This is very startling," he said. "I was totally unprepared for it."
Wuerl is a top American contender for the papacy, according to Allen. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, could also be considered, but both Americans would be on the "C or D list" of candidates, Allen said.
While only the church's inner circle will know what goes on inside the conclave, bookmakers were quick to set the odds over who will be the top contenders.
Two online betting sites listed Turkson as a favorite Monday. London-based William Hill plc and Dublin-based Paddy Power both gave him 3-1 odds.
CNN's Michael Pearson, Hada Messia and Kyle Almond contributed to this report.
Full Coverage: The pope resigns
There have already been 3 popes from Africa...although light skinned Northern Africans (think Khadafi)... I hear one of the front runners may be Canadien eh.
Such a well paid job, good benifits, flexibility and a lot of power and I don't qualify. $%##%$#@
'Well paid job'? You do realize he doesn't earn anything?
yeah he doesnt earn anything and has 0 expenses and the power to hide all the p-e-d-o-priests
Why not a cloned pope? Can the RCC produce the remains of St. Peter? Cloning would do away with the apostolic succession legerdemain.
I am all for cloning. Cloning a pope is even better.
We are not the Vorta ppl!
Sorry, Star Trek moment.
All so called atheists are liars, that said we now recognize what the so called atheist offers the discussion. Nothing of value, in fact the only thing of value the so called atheist can offer this world is to leave it by their own hand. Sadly the so called atheist is without the courage or ability to help anyone, anywhere except themselves.
Jeez! Taking a break from buggering little boys?
We are the future, your imaginary space fairy is the past.
Your cult can't evolve, so it will die, just like the 3000 other cults before it.
"All so called atheists are liars,"
more lies from the xtians 192!
I see a lot of childish name calling and generalizations, but no argument of substance. Typical.
My god! disgusting! Narrow minded baboon with the IQ of a shellfish.
anyone can hand out food to the starving but only ones doing it as a guise to spread religion use bibles as the plates
No, it is the atheists and other cranks that stick to the same old arguments.
Yeah, like modernity, rationality and common sense.
Horrible legs to stand on!
Much better to base ones life on a Bronze Age comic book!
Reason and Faith are the two legs that Humanity stands on. Worse than you have criticized the Church in the past and it is still here. It will be here long after you die and turn to dust. Ignorant and ineffectual is no way to live, change now before it is too late. Turn the Internet off and read a book, better yet several.
LOL and you know why it is still here? Because brain dead people like yourself are intellectually lazy and want everything told to them. Just because a religion is still around doesn't make it relevant. It just means there are many gullible people out there.
As opposed to those who stick with a 2,000 year old book?
man, if the bible was in fact a comic book, i would read it more...
arguments like it is impossible to fertilize a mammals egg without dna from the male species?
arguments like if u rise from the dead then u r a zombie not a prophet?
faerie tales are for children, that is when u instill them then admit the easter bunny, tooth faerie and santa are fake but the opiate created bibles are still real....
As opposed to those who stick with a 2,000 year old book?
And people will still be reading it 100 years from now, while no one will know you even existed.
I am black but I doubt a black pope is going to be even considered. The thought of black conjures up images that are unpleasant- civil war, teenage pregnancy, deadbeat dads, standing on street corners drinking from bottle in brown paper bag, anti intellectual, fist fighting, shooting and maiming each other, just plain mean and bad. However a latin american who looks closer to white appears cleaner, holier, loving, peaceful and safe. My opinion
I was going to protest your comment, then realized it is a very Christian view of black and white (having nothing to do with skin color, just the concept of light and dark, good and evil).
Pity really, there is much good to be found in the dark.
Since we are talking about recruiting from Africa, your vision seems much more tame.
The Church is very diverse and bringing racism to the table is not what the Church is about. Does the message of the Church change because one is Hispanic, Black, white, or Asian? Just wondering since I'm black as well, from a black Catholic family.
only in USA.... and the Southern half sure is bent on not letting u 4get it.....
The Church is strong in Africa and Latin America. It is Europe where it is weak so it would be best to have a European Pope that grew up with and understands the problems in Europe so he can identify with the the people there.
strong because their RECENT ancestors were MASSACRED to be true believers.... they still embrace their religions before SPANISH guns told them to stop
Why not a Pope born in the US?
There would always be questions about whether he was really born in America, rather than Africa.
There are only 5 Cardinals in the U.S. Which one would you suggest?
A black pope eh? I'm all for it. CHRIS DORNER FOR POPE 2013!!
IF YOU WANT TO RECRUIT, YOU USE A NATIVE
Most European countries see these maggottts for what they really are.
If they want the altar boy debachere to continue they need ignorant and impoverished victins on which to feed.
Where better than the arm pits of the Earth to find the next generation of boys to bugger???
At least they know how to spell.
The favorite is Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson from Ghana.
Fun RCC myths: the Catholic Church hated science and stopped it during the dark ages!
Most forget that was the only speck of roman culture that remained after the barbarians finished it that was capable of scientific research was the RCC.
Monk was about the only profession that justified literacy and the RCC was the only organization rich enough to create universities to preserve knowledge. You may know a few, Oxford, Cambridge, you know, nothing too fancy. And these facilities were responsible for the medical advances that led to the first 14th century hospitals, once again funded by the RCC.
Heck around this time, even the Muslims were introducing Europe to some crazy doohickey called a compass.
Great way to re-write history.
It was the cult of Christianity that brought down Rome, and dragged the planet into an agestill known today as the Dark Ages,
Christianity has been a pox on Europe and indeed the whole world for over 2000 years.
It is dying, and I say good riddance.
@William Demuth- are you insane or historically challenged?
"Christianity that brought down Rome"
Yeah, ignore all the Gallic and Celtic tribes that were invading. Or where they Christians?
Forget the corruption that preceeded Christianity becoming the largest religion in the Empire.
As for it dying....nah. The odds are that Christianity will be around for quite some time. At least, I don't see no reason to think that a 1 billion+ member religion is going away anytime soon. Only the self centered would think that a drop in Christianity on the smallest continent would equal "dying".
Shield, you are a simpleton.
Even a child knows that Christianity was the root cause.
Romans had been whooping Barbarians for a thousand years.
Then the cult came into power, and the whole thing collapsed.
Actually, the invasions of "local" Celtic and Gaelic tribes who were pagan had a great deal to do with the fall of Rome, as well as poor and fractured leadership. Rome wasn't a theocracy, kiddo. You also neglect to mention that Byzantium, a Christian Empire, continued on after Rome fell. Sit down before you hurt yourself.
@Poltergeist Your post was confusing. Are you saying that the RCC helped the advancement of science during the Middle Ages or not? Fun fact, Western musical notation (sacred AND secular) would be impossible without the work of Roman Catholic monks during this time period. :)
That was magically fallicious William.
My bad, forgot to put "false" after the first part.
So they have to pick a new overseer of mass child molestation.
You know, there is a part of me that hopes someone holds something bad over you for your whole life. But then the good side of me realizes that only jerks would hold something over ppl that have nothing to do with who they are now.
If I spent 1980 years helping old men r a p e little boys, then spent 20 years obstructing prosecution, you would have every right right to hold it over my head.
"But then the good side of me realizes that only jerks would hold something over ppl that have nothing to do with who they are now."
Like Adam and Eve?
You have NO evidence of anything you just said Derp. 1980 years.....please.
So make it 50 some years of abuse and a corresponding number for the coverup. Gee, I feel SO much better now.
After much consideration, I think they will have to go to Africa or Latin America if they want a pope that has never been a Nazi or child molester.
Many Nazis fled to Africa and North/South america.
Why, since there has never been a Pope who was a Nazi or a child molestor? When are you boys scheduled to have your next cross burning?
And some went to work the space program in the US.
"Walk into NASA and yell "Hail Hitler" and Whoop they all stand up." – Mallory Archer
Good point Poltergeist
What I find interesting is Saint Malachy's prophecy. It claims Peter the Roman will be the last and final pope after Benedict. Will this be a self-fulfilling prophecy? Ya never know but I wouldn't doubt it considering I'm not one to trust anything that comes from the RCC.
Perhaps, but that gives us no clue who they will pick, since they select a papal name unconnected to their own.
Did you really just cite Wikipedia? *face palm* Poor form, lad, poor form!
Would you rather have a biased piece of imformation?
Not Peter the Roman... But one of the 7 Kings since it became a kingdom, he is the 8th false King. the eigth King is next. In the Bible it says " And he will remain for only a short time" (the 7th King) and then the 8th False king. "The world will be amazed when they see him, For he once was, now is not, and soon will be" His ressurection will take place during a Solar Eclipse. Just as he was born on a Eclispe. He Comes from the Beast that sits between the 7 hills.
Like it matters. The Vatican doesn't change.
Of course the Vatican doesn't change. Society is supposed to conform to Christian teachings. The Church does not, has not, and never will conform to Society's values (or lack thereof).
No real reason why the next Pope couldn't come from outside of Europe. There was a time when they never even thought a Pope could come from outside of Italy.
Simple answer, NO. They're not white old guys. Probably depends on how many chior boys they have scored in the past.
Wow, you are a jack@ss.
And? Tell me something that I dont know. And also I noticed that you didnt refute what I stated.
Sorry but you are the one that made a claim. The burden of proof is on you. If you care that is ;)
I wonder if they can find one cardinal from any part of the world who has not been involved in any scandal.
Probably. They need to appeal to their potential victims, ah, converts.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.