April 12, 2005

Papabile-palooza – Possible Papal Long-Shots

Papal elections are few and far between. They come suddenly and are over quickly – at least in the modern era. Historically, most of the participants have been unknowns, but the advent of the internet and other mass media have made it possible for the faithful and the curious to gather information and to speculate about the likely next pope. The possibility of another non-Italian – not to mention a non-European – makes the speculation that much more exciting.

Who are the candidates? Well, it is a bit hard to tell, since the cardinals are no longer talking. That said, there are a lot of names being mentioned, a diverse list of papabile. And while there are certainly some leading candidates, there are also some papal long-shots being mentioned.

If an African is to be the next pontiff, then Francis Cardianal Arinze of Nigeria is still the leading candidatre. That said, in recent days the name Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa has been mentioned.

Are relations with Islam important going to be crucial in the conclave? If so, there are candidates who have experience in that area.

At a time when the Vatican is trying to broaden its dialogue with Islam, Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, 70, of Indonesia, is distinctive as one of the few cardinals from a predominantly Muslim country. Ivan Dias, 68, the archbishop of Bombay, India, also comes from a populous country with relatively few Catholics, though much of his career has been spent as a Vatican diplomat, serving in Africa, South Korea and Albania.

And of course, the Latin Americans are being mentioned prominently. One of those, as I mentioned the other day, is the Archbishop of Havana.

There are a raft of contenders - some front-runners, some long-shots - to be the first Latin American pope. The region's dark horses include Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, the archbishop of Havana, who helped organize the first papal visit to Communist Cuba in 1998 and negotiated modest openings with a government that was once officially atheist.

Ortega, 68, his risen far from humble origins as a sugar worker's son. He is fluent in French and a skilled pianist, cutting an elegant and generally nonconfrontational figure in Cuban society.

And we have all, of course, heard about the front-running Italian, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi , but there are other cardinals to be considered as well.

Italy supplies at least three front-running candidates, but also several in the next rung, including Cardinals Ennio Antonelli of Florence, Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, and Severino Poletto of Turin.

Bertone, 70, occasionally provides radio play-by-play of his favorite soccer team, Juventus; a few weeks ago he made headlines worldwide by urging a boycott of the best-selling book "The Da Vinci Code," which he said distorts the origins of Christianity.

Antonelli, 68, is viewed a cheerful man of the people, a relative moderate on most of the issues facing the Vatican. Poletto, 72, is custodian of the Shroud of Turin.

There are even a couple of French cardinals mentioned as papabile, though their ages make it unlikely that they would become the first French pope since the Avignon period. One is even younger than John Paul II was in 1978, while the other is 78.

Two French cardinals are sometimes mentioned: Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, who is only 55 and known as an advocate for immigrants' rights, and retired Paris Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger, 78, a confidant of John Paul's, a Jewish convert - and a skeptic about lists of front-runners.

"All the names that have surfaced have been invented by journalists," he said last week. "What happens is that most of the time, those who get it are completely unexpected."

In the end, I think Cardinal Lustiger has it partially right. In handicapping the conclave like a political convention or a horserace, it is very possible that almost none of us have heard the name of the next pope – which is exactly what happened twice in 1978, a year that saw the burial and election of two popes.

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