True, resigning Pope Benedict XVI is German, and his predecessor John Paul II, was a Pole. But considering historical precedent, the odds favor a return to tradition, such as Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, or Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's culture minister.
On the other hand, if church leaders at the upcoming Conclave, acknowledging what is probably an irreversible membership decline in Europe, opt to look to the future and growth potential, they might turn their eyes to the Third World -- Africa, Asia or Latin America. Someone such as Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, archbishop of Brasilia, or Cardinal Jorge Marion Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aries, ethnically Italian and reportedly the runner-up to Ratzinger in the last round of voting.
And yet, when the cardinals gather in Rome to select a pope for the 21th century, they might consider a longshot, an American such as Miami's Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
Catholics make 24% of Americans who are affiliated with a religion, the largest denomination in the U.S., according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. But these and other studies also indicate that without the recent influx of immigrants, primarily from Latin and Asian countries, the trend line for the Catholic Church would be almost identical to other mainline denominations, which are both declining in number and aging. An American pope could reverse that trend and help revive the faith in the industrialized and industrializing world.
If a papal prospect could be ordered from a catalogue, Wenski would be an excellent prospect. Although not yet a cardinal -- not a requirement for a papal candidate -- he's about the right age, 62, and vigorous -- famous for tooling around Florida on his motorcycle, including the upcoming "Poker Run" to benefit Catholic Charities. More importantly, he rose to bishop as an urban parish priest, untouched by the clergy sex abuse scandal that many believe has wounded the church.
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