Following Pope Benedict’s surprise resignation on February 11, the first in 600 years, 115 cardinals, including five from India, locked at the Sistine Chapel in Rome to elect the new Pope, the 266th successor of St Peter, the Rock disciple of Jesus.
A conclave is being called to select a new Pope in two cases: most often when the previous Pope dies or on very rare occasions, when he decides to step down, as is the case now.
The presence of serious papal contenders from Asia, Africa and Latin America is a development worth noticeable at the 2013 papal conclave.
Many speculate that the next Pope could come from the developing world, particularly from Africa.
The College of Cardinals presents a variety of personalities, because it expresses the face of the universal church.
While not likely, some hope that the next leader of the 1.2 billion Catholics across the world could be an Asian, in particular, a Filipino.
With a catholic population of roughly 76 million, the Philippines is the largest Christian nation in Asia and the third largest in the world.
One interesting possibility is Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.
At 55, he donned a red cardinal’s biretta and a gold ring to become the second youngest ‘Prince of the Church’ (Cardinal) in November 2012.
Cardinal Tagle, perceived as humble, charming and well connected with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has been called the ‘Great Asian Hope by CNN’s senior Vatican analyst John Allen.
“One could make a pretty strong argument that nobody’s chances of becoming the next Pope benefit more from Benedict XVI’s resignation, than those of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines,” he wrote in an article posted on the website of the ‘National Catholic Reporter’ recently.
“Under ordinary circumstances, Cardinal Tagle’s youth would be seen as an almost’ insuperable bar to election. He is three years younger than John Paul II, when he was elected in 1978,” Allen added.
Cardinal Tagle’s relatively youth age may keep him from the papacy this time.
Still, it keeps him in the running in the long term.
For Filipino catholics who keep the faith, there would always be a next time.
Dr George Abraham is our South Island Correspondent based in Christchurch.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle