Speculation in the Mexican press over the choice of the next pope has focused on the profile, more than on assessing any particular candidates. Admiration for John Paul II is especially abundant here-where people are quick to remind you that Mexico was the first country he visited after becoming pope in 1978-so comparisons are inevitable. "What everyone is hoping is for a pontificate who is equally committed to humanitarian and social causes, the causes of peace, harmony, conciliation and justice, as defended from the first day to the last by the Pope who traveled around the world," José Murat wrote in El Universal (April 10).

However, although 97 percent of the cardinals who will select the next pope were named by John Paul II, "history has shown that conclaves do not select carbon copies of the pope just laid to rest" (Reforma, April 8). After such a long papacy, some commentators expect that the age of potential candidates will be a determining factor. Ezra Shabot writes in the same edition of Reforma that "sectors of the church are insisting on the selection of an older pope who will serve as a transition between the Vatican of Karol Wojtyla and the church of the 21st century."

While many analysts in Mexico indeed point to the late pope's most notable accomplishments over the course of nearly three decades, most are convinced a different profile is needed for a different era. Ezra Shabot writes: "The pedophilia of some priests, the issue of celibacy, divorce, and ethical problems derived from phenomena such as homosexuality and abortion, demand a bolder attitude on the part of the new pope, to prevent the real world from rapidly surpassing the [church's] positions, that are already notoriously out-of-date."

Some point to the "visible division" among the leaders of the Catholic Church between conservatives and moderates or reformists. "We can't expect a radical change through the succession process.however, we can at least express our hope that the new pope will come from the moderate wing of the Vatican, that he reflects the geographic distribution of Catholicism, and that he prioritizes compassion over rejection, and human rights over tradition," writes José Merino (Milenio daily, April 3).

At a press conference following John Paul II's death, Carlos Aguiar Retes, the general secretary of the Mexican Bishops' Conference, rejected the idea of ideological tendencies or groups in the conclave that could be labeled as liberal or conservative (Reforma, April 3) Among the main tasks of the next pope, Aguiar Retes emphasized the need "for the church to adapt to the rapid changes in society," and to "take root in this globalized world" where peace, justice, equality, and fraternity are often lacking. "In these aspects," he said, "we are at risk of remaining on the sidelines." (La Jornada, April 3)

According to Reforma, Aguiar Retes also addressed another key point of speculation: the possibility that for the first time in history, the next pope will be a Latin American. He was quoted as saying that with 21 voting Latin American cardinals-making up a sixth of the total conclave- there is a real chance for the region to aspire to the highest position in the Roman Catholic Church. Latin America, referred to as the "continent of hope" by Pope John Paul II, is the region with the most Catholics in the world.

In fact, Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera is included in some lists of the "papabiles." Although there is currently only brief mention in the Mexican press regarding his chances, his photograph was on the cover of the Líderes Mexicanos (Mexican Leaders) magazine in February 2002, with the headline "The Next Pope?" At that time, Roberto Blancarte, a specialist in religious affairs at Colegio de México, told Proceso magazine that Rivera's capacities should not be underestimated, but that he would not likely become the next pope, particularly because of his "lack of stature" with regard to the other papabiles.

Mexican newspapers and magazines reported this week that prospects for Rivera's candidacy may now be diminished because of a legal complaint alleging "organized crime and/or tax evasion or money laundering" recently filed against him and other members of Mexico's Catholic hierarchy for keeping donations intended for construction of a shrine. And, perhaps more important, other Latin Americans are mentioned more frequently, especially Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Mexican commentators are more focused on the next pope coming from somewhere in the Third World. If so, Esteban Israel wrote in a Reforma news report, "We can expect the Vatican to be more sensitive to the concrete problems facing the 1.1 billion Catholics, than to theologians." In Latin America alone there are 224 million people living in poverty.

"Many are aware of the need for the Church to abandon its European centricity if it wishes to evangelize the African and Asian world," the famed Brazilian priest Frei Betto wrote in El Universal (April 9). "A black pope or one with almond-shaped eyes would be a strong indication of a change of path."

In an op-ed published in El Universal, Jean Meyer, a historian of religion and director of the Division de Historia of the Center for Teaching and Research in Economics in Mexico City, said that although there are many Italian cardinals, and the Europeans have the majority in the College of Cardinals, many of them may in fact be in favor of a new pope from Africa, Asia, or the Americas. For his part, however, Meyer resists the temptation of trying to guess who the next pope will be. One reason, he says, is that there are too many possible candidates with too many strong points in their favor. And he reminds us of the many "surprise popes" announced by the white smoke signaling "we have a pope."

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