VATICAN CITY – After celebrating the 25th anniversary of his pontificate and presiding over the beatification of Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II continued his busy week by installing 30 new cardinals, Oct. 21. Among the newly appointed cardinals, 26 were under 80 - and therefore qualified to take part in the election of a new pope.
Once a cardinal reaches the age of 80, they are no longer allowed to be in the conclave – the secret meeting that elects the pope. By appointing the additional 26, the number of voters installed by John Paul increased to 96 – more than 2/3 of the 135 total voters.
Observers believe much of the speculation about the identity of the next Pope will be focused on his nationality.
While John Paul II, the first non-Italian Pope in four and a half centuries is seen as one of the great Popes, many Catholics would like to see the papacy back in Italian hands.
However, the number of cardinals from Italy has steadily declined, along with their influence in the conclave. With the six additional Italians in the new batch of cardinals, the country has a total of 23 votes.
All the European cardinals together, including the Italians, account for almost half the votes. Cardinals from the developing world make up 38 percent of the electors, most of which are from Latin America, where half of the world’s 1 billion Catholics now live.
"Geography is one factor in a complicated cocktail," says John Allen, the Vatican correspondent of National Catholic Reporter.
"There is also age, the question of charisma and holiness, and where one stands on doctrinal issues.
"Many cardinals would love to elect someone out of the third world, because it would be a powerful symbol of solidarity and support for victims of globalisation.
"But that does not exclude the hypothesis of an Italian or a European, or someone from any other point of the compass."
Currently, first in the line of probable successors is the Archbishop of Milan, Dionigi Tettamanzi. One bookmaker gives Tettamanzi odds of 2-1. The runner up is the Archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega y Alamino with a 4-1 chance, and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria with a 6-1 chance.
Members of the College of Cardinals are cautiously talking about the kind of man they would like to see succeed John Paul II.
One of the voters, the Archbishop of Montreal, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, expressed his desire to inaugurate someone who could best give the message of Jesus Christ to the world.
"There are many candidates who can do that," he said.
"For me, the nationality of the one who is elected is not important."