Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio has gained the goodwill of Argentina's Roman Catholics with his self-effacing style. He rides the bus to work instead of a chauffeured car, spurns the official residence for a modest apartment and does his own cooking.
With speculation that a successor to Pope John Paul II could emerge from Latin America, where nearly half the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics live, the 68-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aires is seen as a strong contender.
Bergoglio, the son of middle-class Italian immigrants, became the first Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was appointed cardinal three years later.
His conservative leanings on doctrinal and spiritual issues are widely seen as in keeping with the legacy of John Paul. He opposes abortion and supports celibacy among priests, and he has called for tightening the church's hierarchical structure to ease internal dissent.
A popular and well-known activist, Bergoglio has championed social programs and won respect for questioning free-market policies, which he blames for leaving millions of Argentines impoverished. During one of his final Masses before departing for the conclave that begins Monday in Rome, appreciative throngs chanted "Viva Bergoglio!" after his sermon honoring John Paul.