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
It seems CNN has an astounding double standard on race that is staring them in the face, but they refuse to see it. There is absolutely nothing wrong or sinister about being white with European ancestry, or that the next chosen Pope might be another white man. CNN just can’t stand to see so many pale faces. Racists.
Please supply the lines in which this story equated "white" and "sinister"
The pope should be African or Latin American. Get white out to restore the balance of humanity's struggle with materialism and spiritualism. Since there is black president in U.S. office, the pope should be Latino.
Yes, by all means, bring in more 3rd world superst-itions.
you just bought yourself a ticket to hell
Do you suggest that if the new Pope is Latino, so it could not be white too?, so did you know that in Latin American countries there is a big proportion of whites too??
Wow. Miked – maybe you should schedule yourself for a vacation somewhere in Latin America. See the world and learn a few things.
Oh my me, obama is gonna be pope
Ho ho ho ... a black pope?
No offense ... but I certainly wouldn't trust any black that worships a white god.
I suspect a Muslim Pope would be a good leader and much more representative of the world we live in.
Yup. 72 virgins if he blows himself up. Sure, why not.
Ummmm....the people who invented this god were far from white and I don't recollect any description in the bible that says that god was white. Even if he were, some hindus worship blue gods...who gives a crap.
C'mon, if religion is a way to control the weak minded, then why are more than 2.1 billion christians on earth. of those many are faithful, brilliant believers who are famous and successful people
No, but his is something that will concern the world until at least Thursday.
What about a Pope from Asia? All you can think of is Africa or Latin America? Do you know how many catholics in Asia? Much more than Africa and Latin Africa combined. But always it is going to be from Europe because if you look at the number of Cardinals who will elect the next Pope the vast majority of them are from Europe.
In Latin America there are more catholics than Asia or Africa, so would be unfair that the new Pope would be from those regions you´ve mentioned.
@Primero, it depends whether your goal is to be fair or to target recruitment.
Pope BENEDICT appointed JUST over HALF – 63 of 124 – of the eligible Cardinals who will choose the NEXT Pope.
In response to Bruce and most of you: why does the pope need to lead all the people in the world? Every religion has their traditions, so why do you care what we do? I don't care what the Jewish traditions are, nor is it any of my business. Leave us Catholics alone. If you are not catholic why is any of this your business?
It's my business because the church uses its vast resources to affect the lives of me and my family. Their religious agenda translates to a political one. The church disgusts me with its no-contraveption stance in countries where malnutrition and disease kills millions, because there are already too many mouths to feed. How the church behaves causes reverberations in many ways across the planet.
It's my business because I live in a world in which the Catholic church limited several nations support in developing countries based on their beliefs about birth control and abortion. Further, I live in a country in which marriage laws are influenced by Catholic beliefs which are dictated by the Pope. Boring though the subject may be, he matters.
Why not a while male American? The best person should get the job, not the person who would be considered the most PC.
The best one would be one with Nazi sympathies and pedophillic tendencies.
Are you saying that any white male American is best for the job by default by being American?
They need a good Irish Catholic, you can never go wrong with a good Irishman!!!
Timothy Dolan – Wholly Owned by Wall Street
All the Irish clergy are tainted by the massive pedo scandal there.
Eh, I honestly don't care. Doesn't affect me or mine. My children know right from wrong and do not need a book telling them that anything they do is probably a sin so don't live your life how you want do it "by the book" pfft this troll is out.
My money is on Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet.
I'se be th' new pope. Hopes them suckas in the Vatican likes chicken.
/gasp....nah I giggled.
Why did my post disappear CNN?
It violated the terms.
No the page changed.
We got an emergency e-mail from New World Order headquarters to censor and oppress you.
They said they are out to get you, and asked us not to remind you that wrapping foil around yourself stops us from being able to track the computer chips we seecretly implanted.
Or the page changed.
Perhaps you ran afoul of the silly automatic word filter.
Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN Belief Blog/WordPress automatic filter:
Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters or some html tricks to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
ar-se.....as in ar-senic.
co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, etc.
co-on.....as in racc-oon, coc-oon, etc.
cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, drift-wood, etc.
ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, sopho-more, etc.
ho-oters…as in sho-oters
ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
hu-mp… as in th-ump, th-umper, th-umping
jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
o-rgy….as in po-rgy, zo-rgy, etc.
pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
p-oon… as in sp-oon, lamp-oon, harp-oon
p-orn… as in p-ornography
pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
sm-ut…..as in transm-utation
sp-ic.....as in desp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
sp-ook… as in sp-ooky, sp-ooked
ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, t-itle, ent-ity, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, salt-water, etc.
va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
There's another phrase that someone found, "wo-nderful us" (have no idea what sets that one off).
Please. No more Popes.
Iscariot=Choked (as in hanged)
Bartimaeus=Son of Sight (see Plato's Timaeus)
Symbolic names. Allegorical stories. No longer meaningful or useful. Time marches on. Let's get beyond all this nonsense.
Yes, instead of giving our sons names like John and Peter, let's get out the Big Book of Medieval Trades and name them Hunter and Tanner.
What a lame article! The lead contenders are Italian power-player insiders, and I bet one already made his move before this was even announced.
Yeah, a black or hispanic Pope. Sure. Just look at any picture of groups of cardinals, and point out all the non-whites. Go for it. Hint: they are right next to the women cardinals.
Hysterical!! Why do people posting on this page care who is the next pope? It's obviously not their religion. Given the posts. Funny to read. Why work yourself up about it?
Who is "worked up"?
Lets hope the next Pope will truly lead all the people of the world.
An Illuminati Pop that works for Monsanto is next!
They should put a lesbian female as pope. Anyone else would be a joke, just like the religion.
They really should have a woman in the womens' clothes they always wear.
A lesbian female?
Obviously progunn is bigotted against male lesbians.
We can carpet-munch too, buddy!
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.