ROME, April 16 -- The next pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church could be a Brazilian cardinal who gave refuge to striking workers pursued by police helicopters. It could be a Nigerian whose parents worshiped African gods, a bookish Viennese who speaks five languages, an Italian who speaks only his home tongue, or an Argentine who rides a bus to work in his diocese.
For nine days since the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the 115 voting cardinals have been ensconced in secret deliberations to size up the biographies, positions and personalities of the candidates. Their meetings, following the practice of centuries, ended Saturday. The ring and seals of the last pope were smashed. Workmen laid out long tables for the cardinals beneath the muscular figures painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel.
Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the archbishop of Milan
On Sunday, the electors were set to move into a special hotel on the Vatican grounds. On Monday, their conclave opens at the Sistine Chapel and they will start to vote for the 265th pope.
According to students of this and past pre-election periods, the conclave is shaping up to be a clash of two outlooks. The first emphasizes moral codes, right-to-life issues, a shoring-up of the faith and an assault on industrialized countries for their consumerism, sexual license and secular leanings. It claims continuity with John Paul's teachings. The second camp does not disagree on these matters but points the papacy in a different direction: toward social issues, helping the poor, and dispersing Catholic decision-making from the Vatican to individual bishops and their regional associations.
Only two popes in the 2,000-year history of the church served longer than John Paul's 26 years. Selecting someone to follow in the steps of a charismatic and energetic pope presents immense difficulties. Because of John Paul's vast travels and intervention in human rights and political affairs during the Cold War, the choice of the pope has significance far beyond the church.
"This is not a friendly match," Alberto Melloni, a historian of the Roman Catholic Church, said of the process. "One side holds up John Paul's banner in support of conservative positions -- they're for continuity. The other wants a fresh start."
Classifying candidates is difficult -- many could be described as both conservative and liberal, centralizers and power-sharers, disciplinarians and conciliators.
One cardinal stands out as the leader of a faction favoring continuity: Joseph Ratzinger, John Paul's chief guardian of orthodoxy, a German who served in and deserted from the Nazi army in World War II. Ratzinger, 78, is a prolific writer with a reputation as both a social charmer and a harsh taskmaster. His first chore under John Paul was to crack down on liberation theology, the movement that organized the poor to fight for their rights in the Third World. He then moved on to silence voices that questioned the church's teachings on papal infallibility, contraception and the prohibition on ordaining women.
If Ratzinger decides to play the role of kingmaker rather than candidate, he could tip support toward any of a number of allies, Vatican watchers say. One such ally, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, 74, heads the Italian Bishops Conference. During a sermon on the second day of mourning, he supplemented his strict stand on issues of doctrine and morality with a call for "collegiality."
Contrasting with Ratzinger, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the tall, stately retired archbishop of Milan, is prominent among those who promote a new direction for the papacy. Martini has been living in Jerusalem, quietly studying the Bible -- and occasionally challenging the policies and practices of John Paul's papacy. In an April 7, 2004, interview with Rome's Il Tempo newspaper, he delivered a detailed plan for Church democracy. He suggested that national bishops' councils play a role in electing popes and said the church ought to consider ordaining women.
Martini may get votes in the first round, but as a symbolic candidate, conjectured Giulio Anselmi, a former editor of the Rome newspaper Il Messagero. Martini, 78, suffers from the early stages of Parkinson's disease, the same illness that weakened John Paul, and probably will give way to a fellow Italian, Diogini Tettamanzi, who replaced him as archbishop of Milan, Anselmi said.
On the one hand, Tettamanzi, 71, has been firmly in line with John Paul's stern stands. He helped edit the 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," which denounced the "culture of death" that the pope said was reflected in contraception, abortion and euthanasia. But Tettamanzi also enraged some colleagues by treating homosexuality as no more of a sin than adultery.
Italian or Not
Italy supplied all the popes during the 455 years before John Paul's election. The latest local names popping up in Italian newspapers are Florence's Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, 69; Genoa's Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 70; and Venice's Angelo Scola, 63. Antonelli, whom Italians link with Martini's faction, has become a major proponent of using the Internet to reach young Catholics and has held vigils with Muslims to protest the Iraq war. Bertone, who once worked for Ratzinger, made a splash last month by attacking the novel "The Da Vinci Code." Scola, the son of a truck driver, has a common touch and has started a magazine, Oasis, to build bonds between Christians in the West and in countries with Muslim majorities.
In the 1978 conclave that elected John Paul, the inability of Italians to settle on a single strong candidate opened the way for the Polish pope. The scenario could be played out again, observers speculate. Latin America, which contains half the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, provides several possible candidates.
Brazil's Cardinal Claudio Hummes, 71, has consistently focused on social issues. When he was bishop of a diocese outside the city of Sao Paulo in the 1970s, he hid striking auto workers in his church. Among them was Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, now Brazil's president. Lula has called publicly for Hummes's election as pope.
Buenos Aires' Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 68, rose to prominence partly because of his humble lifestyle. He lives in his own apartment with an elderly colleague rather than in the palatial archbishop's residence in the Argentine capital. He cooks for himself and takes the bus to work. When he was named cardinal in 2002, he forbade followers to travel to Rome to celebrate for him and urged them to give money to the poor instead. But he is a Jesuit, and no member of that religious order has ever been elected pope.
Two other Latin American cardinals are known for ministering to the poor: Colombia's Dario Castrillon Hoyos and Honduras's Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga. As a young priest, Castrillon, 75, walked the streets of his parish distributing coffee and food to the homeless. As a bishop, he disguised himself as a milkman to sneak into the mountains in an attempt to persuade drug gang leader Pablo Escobar to enter into negotiations with the government.
Rodriguez Maradiaga, 62, who has a degree in psychology, advocates debt relief for Third World countries. Like Hummes, he has attacked global capitalism as carrying "injustice in its genetic code."
Two European candidates share an interest in inter-religious dialogue. Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, 60, oversaw production of a 500-page catechism, the handbook of Catholic beliefs, and has been deeply involved in pan-Christian unity talks and meetings with Muslim leaders. He is the only hereditary nobleman among the cardinals.
Paris's Jean-Marie Lustiger, 78, is the son of Polish Jewish parents who emigrated to France. The Nazis deported his mother to Auschwitz, where she died. Brought up by Catholic guardians, he converted at the age of 13 and changed his name from Aaron to Jean-Marie. He told reporters recently that he considered himself a Jew with "dual affiliation."
A veteran cardinal from Nigeria, Cardinal Francis Arinze, and India's Cardinal Ivan Dias are also identified as candidates to be the next pope.
Arinze, 72, would be the first pope from Africa in 1,500 years and the first black ever.
Dias, 69, is said to speak 16 languages and has been a roving diplomat for the Vatican for 30 years.