The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI means that the Papal Conclave must meet to choose a new leader for the 1.1 billion strong faith. With the members of the College of Cardinal arriving in Rome this weekend, a date for the papal conclave is expected to be set very soon.
Much speculation has focused on whom the next Pope will be, with the top contenders of Ghana's Peter Turkson and Italy's Angelo Scola, profiled endlessly. However, the growing importance of Asia, Latin America, and Africa in the growth of the church means that the oddsmakers are not ruling out the possibility of a Pope from the developing world, Turkson's rise to fame being the best example. However there are others who have a chance besides Turkson. Here are three of those considered most likely:
1. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (Philippines)
The current Archbishop of Manila, Tagle is a rising star in the Church due to his natural charisma and popularity in the Philippines. He is the one of the most social media savvy Cardinals, having an active Facebook page along with a weekly YouTube series. His election to the papacy would see it reach out in new ways to the flock.
He has called out for a "quieter, listening church" that is willing to admit mistakes. He has focused on the plight of the poor in his past sermons. He contributed to the History of Vatican II project for six years, and his writing was criticized as an overly progressive view of the council. However he has taken a strong stance against a proposed Reproductive Health Bill in the Philippines due to its promotion of birth control.
His young age, at 55, is a big wildcard. His election would probably mean a long papacy, as the two youngest popes elected in modern history, John Paul II and Pius IX, reigned for at least 25 years.
2. Cardinal Francis Arinze (Nigeria)
The former Archbishop of Onitsha, Arinze is the highest ranking African in the Church. A convert from an African traditional religion, Arinze has experienced a meteoric rise, becoming the youngest Bishop in the Catholic Church at 29. When he was appointed to Archbishop, the Nigerian Civil War broke out and he was forced to leave his archdiocese, as it was located in a warzone. During the war, he worked tireless to help refugees and keep the Church separate from the political conflict. He was elevated to Cardinal shortly afterwards.
Arinze's views on homosexuality are more extreme then Benedict's, with protests erupting at Georgetown University in the United States after he likened it to pornography, infanticide, and adultery. He is firmly against contraception and birth control. His experience during the Nigerian Civil War has led him to call for global disarmament in his book, Religions for Peace: A Call for Solidarity to the Religions of the World. He also believes in interfaith dialogue between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities.
Arnize is old, and he was considered for the Papacy in the past when Benedict was elected. At age 80, he is unable to vote in the proceedings of the papal conclave. His age is a possible black mark against him as his reign would be short lived.
3. Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga (Honduras)
The current Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Maradiaga was the Vatican's spokesperson to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund where he used his position to denounce Latin America's foreign debt burden. He is a major force for human rights and economic justice in Latin America, claiming that "work is a human right" and that the definition of poverty should include lack of healthcare, food, water, and a job.
He is a foe of contraception, presiding over a meeting of church leaders that called for the end of "the contraceptive imperialism of population control promoted with the use of abortion, sterilization and contraception." He does not believe that condoms should be used to solve the AIDS crisis. Maradiaga has been accused of being involved in the 2009 Honduran coup that saw President Manuel Zelaya ousted from power illegally.
Maradiaga is widely seen as a centrist and his election would function as sort of a compromise candidate between the conservative and progressive factions of the church. It is rumored that he received two votes during the 2005 papal conclave.
Overall, these candidates serve as a great snapshot of the strengths of the modern church in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Choosing any of them would mean that the Catholic Church sees the developing world as very important in their future.