As former Pope Benedict XVI relaxes in his retirement gardens, cardinals in Vatican City prepare to take a vote on the 266th pope and many in Latin America are hoping for one of their own to take the job. 432 million Catholics reside in Latin America and there are several top contenders that may soon become the leader of the world’s largest church.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, 69, Argentina
Originally from Buenos Aires, Sandri studied theology there along with philosophy and humanities. Under Pope John Paul II, he held the third most important position in the Vatican and often read public messages when the pontiff’s health was declining. He speak five languages: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, 63, Brazil
Archbishop Scherer presides over the Sao Paulo diocese, the largest in the world’s most populous Roman Catholic nation, and is one of the top candidates expected to succeed Pope Benedict. The German-Brazilian cardinal is considered a moderate in Rome, but in his native country, his attitudes towards gay marriage and other social issues led to his label as a conservative. In the past, he has remarked that liberation theology, a rival religious movement Pope John Paul II considered dangerous to the church, uses “Marxism as a tool of analysis.”
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, 70, Honduras
Honduran-born Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga is known for his fight against poverty and criticism of capitalism. He presides over the Catholic charity Caritas International and has said before “Justice will have to be the agenda for the 21st century in all the countries of Latin America. Many times justice comes only for the people who are rich. The poor have no right to justice.” Maradiaga is also a talented saxophone player; he performed during a concert celebrating the XXV anniversary of episcopal consecration.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, Argentina
One of five children, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was the son of an Italian railway worker and his wife. He has been the Archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998 and was a front-runner after the death of Pope John Paul II. Known as a conservative, he has recommended that his clergy oppose both abortion and the legalization of gay marriage but does teach the importance of respecting individuals who are gay.
Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, 65, Brazil
Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz grew up in a poor family in rural southern Brazil. As a young priest, he was once caught in the crossfire of an armed robbery, with bullet fragments hitting his lungs and one eye. Suregeons were able to save the eye but fragments remain in his body. In 2011, he took over the Vatican department for religious congregations and, though he’s kept a low profile, is well known for being in staunch defense of the poor.