In Brief... In Search of the Next Pope

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In Brief... In Search of the Next Pope

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The Polish pope's election over 23 years ago broke with a tradition of Italians for nearly 500 years, and opened the way for a surprise pope from the Third World. The chances of that have improved since John Paul elevated 44 new members to the College of Cardinals, from which a future non-Italian pope could be elected. Though Italian cardinals are still the largest contingent, no cardinal has sufficient support. Latin Americans are the largest geographic bloc after the Europeans, and they minister to about 500 million Catholics. The church is expanding fast in Africa and Asia.

The most closely watched cardinals are six from different countries and cultures, who share certain attributes. All are multilingual men of the world, all hold high-profile posts at home or at the Vatican, and all are of the Third World.

One example is the primate of Mexico, Cardinal Norbero Rivera Carrera. He is athletic, 59, of Tepehuene Indian ancestry and lives in his native state of Durango. He gained a reputation as a strict conservative at a time of liberal theology and doctrine. He has spoken out against Mexico's elite for corruption and failure to help the nation's poor. He could be the next to sit in the seat now occupied by John Paul II.

Another is Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, 68, born in eastern Eziowelle. His older brother recounts that as a youth, he excelled academically and entered the seminary at 15.

Arinze gained notoriety during the Biafran civil war in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he was forced, overnight, to transform missionary schools under his charge into camps for starving refugees. He has also served for two decades at the Vatican as a key figure in arranging interfaith dialogue among Catholics, Muslims and Hindus.

Among the others being watched are cardinals from Vietnam, Colombia, Honduras and Cuba.

John Paul's papacy saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of terrorism in the world. The next pope will likely be thrust into a world with equally diverse problems.