With Pope Benedict XVI announcing his impending resignation at the end of this month, rumors continue to swirl about who will succeed the Pope when he steps down. Many are now pointing to a Brazilian Archbishop as one of the favorites to be the next pontiff.
Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world with 133 million Catholics, according to Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. However, despite Catholicism being able to boast large numbers it faces some stern challenges throughout the region.
The country has joined a growing movement of Protestantism, which has seen the evangelical church witness growth in recent years where as Catholic numbers have declined in many regions. The trend is similar to that of other countries in Latin America. Some experts have suggested this would be a good reason for the Catholic Church to elect one of the five candidates from Brazil, and that a prominent global Catholic figure would help to turn the tide back to growth for the Catholic Church in the region.
According to Brazilian Christian apologist Johnny Bernardo of the Institute for Religious Research (INPR), the current evangelical growth was already predicted by media in 2005 when Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI, was installed as the pope.
Among all five candidates from Brazil, two are mentioned among the frontrunners for now - João Braz de Aviz, 64, and the Archbishop Odilo Scherer, 63.
João Braz de Aviz is the current prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Odilo Scherer is the Archbishop of Sao Paulo – Brazil's largest, with 6 million Catholics, according to the BBC. He holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Other Brazilian candidates include Cardinals Claudio Hummes, 78; Raymundo Damasceno, president of Brazilian National Bishops' Conference (CNBB); and Geraldo Majella Agnelo, 79, who is Archbishop Emeritus of São Salvador da Bahia.
Bernardo also views Brazilian Cardinal Dom Orani Tempesta's inclusion as a sixth Cardinal to help elect Pope Benedict's successor, as helpful in pushing forward the agenda for a Brazilian pope.
Pope Benedict has announced that he will resign on Feb. 28 due to old age, becoming the first pope to resign from the office in nearly 600 years, since 1415.