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
please not africa! please,no!!
Move over Papi...am comin down!
– only for the new members of this blog:
The Apostles' / Agnostics’ Creed 2013 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)
Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????
I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)
Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,
He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.
(References used are available upon request.)
As in every perfect job candidate, they must be either African, Latino, Gay and preferrably Female.
Transgender or trans-species would be absolutely perfect.
Obama is not Catholic and I don't think he will take that stupid job.
We can send em Jessi Jackson
A 'truth be told" by any other name is still as stupid.
Obama for Pope
I think you're a closet Obama lover. I cant understand why you talk about a person you hate so much? You're against abortion, yet I don't see you offering to help any of the kids you want so badly to be born. Same thing about birth control! Show us the money! Dumb azzez like you fail to realize, kids cost you money too. They need schooling, housing, healthcare, food etc. If the parents cant pay, Guess who pays, YOUR DUMB AZZ. So when your taxes go up. Give a shout out to the people that didn't take birth control or have an abortion F00L.
We have an AFRICAN from KENYA we can nominat. I think The prince of no peace prize would look good in that Pope hat, He can make the Catholics offer Birth Control and aBORTION AND offer a global health care that would beat the Pope Band.
Changed your name again, did you
You're quite stupid, aren't you?
He pulled a Palin.
Anyone have and good pope jokes?
Sure look at the one retiring.
I love this little period in between Popes/dictators when, just for a little while, there's no one calling himself infallible.
Topher and Chad believe themselves infallible. Isn't that enough?
The Pope also has to speak Italian...many African and Latin American Cardinals don't. He is the Bishop of Rome.
Excuseme! All bishops speak latin, I am amazed how ignorant americans are
I predict within in a year we either find out the guy either has Alzheimer's or someone has found some really bad info that the church can't cover up. And it would have to be REALLY bad given we have letters written and signed by this guy conspiring to cover up and protect dozens of incidents of child abuse. And this guy also reinstated priesthood to admitted Holocaust deniers and pedophiles. And he was a member of the Nazi party (of course, he was "just following orders"). His conscience finally got to him and he defected from the German army (after they had already lost and he was in danger of being killed by Allied troops). What blacker, darker secret must be about to come out to get this guy to go into hiding?
St. Malachy's 'Prophecy of the Popes' predicts that the next Pope, will be the last Pope. Peter the Roman, will oversee the destruction of Rome...The End Is Near...
Nonsense. The "prophecies" have been interpreted exactly as believers wished them to be.
Pick-a-pope.....any pope will do.
You can pick your pope, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your popes nose. That job is strictly limited to The Most Holy Vatican Office Of Holy Papal Surrogate Nose Pickers.
Butch- Now that was funny.
I pick Manti Te'o
I really hope the pope folks will think out of the box and go with Barack Hussein Obama, for the next pope of the catholic church. I mean, he's black and that got us some points round the world in 2008. Besides, then he could step down early and leave it to old Joe. By god he'd have the Russians to the point of WWIII in days wouldn't he? But seriously, Obama would make a great pope, he believes in jesus doesn't he? Well, doesn't he?
No, but really, who really cares? Do any of you devout Catholics wake up every morning wondering what the vicar of Christ is up to today? You prob'ly forgot there was a pope until he resigned...
Uh, except President Obama isn't Catholic. But don't let that get in the way of your fictional essay. Or your chagrin that he won.
Yea the first American, Islamic, Christian, Jewish , Kenyan, Hawiian, Kinda black POPE. I nominate Obama
Gotta love the right wingnuts! Just hilarious.
5875, you're one of those people who are described as "challenged", aren't you?
Well now since we will probably have a woman president in 2016, how about a woman Pope. That would work very nicely to change the world.
YEA, Hillary is free for the job, or maybe Polosi. OH WAIT SHELIA JACKSON LEE or Maxine Waters
5875, you're one of those that sees twin dripping daggers impaling kittens on your Rorshach tests, aren't you?
who cares- end this silly nonsense religion already... do people still really believe in this crap???
Just 80 to 90% of the entire planet.
Believe me, Patrick, its big business. Bigger than you or I could believe.
@Jerry Fallswell Also what's interesting – 80-90% of people are just average people, with IQ's in the 45th-55th percentile.
evin ... you are an intellectual bigot and not as smart as you think you are. A 45 who believes in God has a better grasp on life and eternity than you ever will.
jerry fallswell you don't really hink 80 to 90 % of the world is catholic do you?
I don't hold much hope for them breaking the longstanding status quo. The best we can hope for is if they choose the Canadian.
Or Barak Obama from Kenya.
Just wondering. Where are your grandparents from ? I bet you are not native Indian. Prob from old crapy Eastern Europe. That makes you a foreigner also.
just wondering, you are one of those that wet the bed until you were 14, aren't you?
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.