Selecting the Successor to John Paul II

The late John Paul II left behind a legacy of internationalism, conservatism and modernization for the Catholic Church that won him a place next to the greatest of popes. And as the world braces for the elaborately planned funeral commemorating his life and papacy, the princes of the Vatican will slowly begin the process of electing a successor to the throne.

The highly sacred and secretive gathering of the world’s cardinals takes place fifteen to twenty days after the pontiff’s passing. All cardinals under the age of 80 – the vast majority of whom were elected by John Paul – will literally lock themselves in the Sistine Chapel until they agree on the next successor.

Much speculation has been made regarding the next “spiritual father” of the world’s billion Catholics. Some say an Italian pope should be chosen to offset the late pontiff’s heritage – the Polish native was the first non-Italian pope to be elected in 455 years.

However, the time has now come for the Holy See to step out of the Italian frame and even beyond its European borders.

During Pope John Paul II’s reign, the Catholic Church experienced an explosion of growth in Latin America, Asia and Africa, while congregations in Europe dwindled in size.

The Church is at a crossroads where a revival is burgeoning in the Third World and when the spiritual center is shifting from the North to the South.

Therefore when the cardinals meet, they too should pass the pontifical baton to a Southern player – one who could effectively communicate and lead the world’s Catholics from their shoes.

More than half of the world’s one billion Catholics reside in Latin America and the church there is still growing. Furthermore, worshippers in the South are conservative on nearly all critical issues facing the church in the modern era, as was the late Karol Josef Wojtyla.

When the red-caped princes of the Vatican meet for the crucial decision in coming weeks, they should continue the legacy of Pope John Paul in selecting a leader who can maintain the traditions of the church while effectively communicating to and with the internationalized church.