Following the surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, thoughts have turned to who will take over as head of the Roman Catholic Church. A new Pope is expected to be in place by Easter.
The names of several possible candidates to become the next head of the Roman Catholic Church have been mentioned in the world's media since Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by announcing on Monday that he would relinquish his duties at the end of this month.
Although a date for the start of the conclave to select a successor has not been set, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters on Monday that he expected this to happen within 15-20 days of the resignation.
"The pope caught us a bit by surprise," Lombardi said.
The field appears to be wide open, with no apparent frontrunner. Speculation around the world varies, from region to region, with many putting forth arguments about why a particular cardinal from their country would be a good fit.
Some have said the papacy could go to an Italian for the first time since 1978, when the Catholic cardinals chose the Polish-born Pope John Paul II.
There is also speculation that the job could go to a non-European for the first time. A number of names have been mentioned, including a couple from Africa, as well as a number of cardinals from Latin America and even one from North America.
While he did not mention any names, the chairman of the German Conference of Bishops, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch spoke to the daily newspaper Die Welt about what qualities the next pope should have. In the Tuesday edition of the paper, Zollitsch said the next pope must be in the tradition of his successor, as Benedict would leave a "rich theological and spiritual heritage" behind when he leaves the post.
Zollitsch refused to speculate on whether the next pope should come from Latin America or somewhere else abroad.
"We should leave this up to the Holy Spirit," Zollitsch said.
Shortly after Benedict's resignation, the question was raised as to what his role would be and where he would live after he steps down on February 28.
The Vatican's spokesman said this was not yet entirely clear.
"It's an unprecedented situation, we'll see how it goes,” Lombardi said.”He has often said that he wanted to dedicate his old age to writing and study, and I imagine he will do so."
"I don't think he will be a recluse," he added.
Tributes from native land
Following Benedict's announcement on Monday, tributes to his work over the past seven and a half years came from leaders around the world, but particularly his native Germany.
Chancellor Angela Merkel told a hastily called news conference in Berlin that she had the "utmost respect" for Benedict's decision to step down.
"The pope's words will accompany me for a long time to come," Merkel said, praising Benedict as "deeply educated, with a sense for history's great correlations and a lively interest in the processes of European unification."
President Joachim Gauck, who served as a Protestant pastor in communist East Germany said that the pope's "faith, wisdom and personable modesty" had left him "deeply impressed."
pfd/hc (dpa, KNA, AFP, Reuters)