Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras poses in Toronto, 27 July 2002, during the 17th World Youth Day.  (Gabriel Bouys//AFP/Getty Images)

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras poses in Toronto, 27 July 2002, during the 17th World Youth Day. (Gabriel Bouys//AFP/Getty Images)

Top 5 Papal Contenders from Latin America

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

Top 5 Papal Contenders from Latin America argentinasardi news NBC Latino News

Argentinian Archibishop Leonardo Sandri celebrates mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. (Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

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

Odilo Pedro Scherer

Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, Sao Paulo’s archbishop, gives a special Mass of thanksgiving in honor of Pope Benedict XVI. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) (Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, Sao Paulo’s archbishop, gives a special Mass of thanksgiving in honor of Pope Benedict XVI at the Cathedral in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. The cardinal will be part of the conclave that will elect the next Pope. (AP Photo/Andre Penner))

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

(FILES) Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras poses in Toronto, 27 July 2002, during the 17th World Youth Day. Pope Benedict XVI will visit Mexico on March 23, 2012 before going on to Cuba, where he will celebrate mass in the same square visited in 1998 by his charismatic predecessor, John Paul II.  AFP PHOTO/GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras poses in Toronto during the 17th World Youth Day.   (Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

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

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Argentine Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio speaks during a mass for Ash Wednesday. (Photo by Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

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Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, 65, Brazil

New cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz (L) archbishop of Brasilia receives the biretta cap from Pope Benedict XVI in Saint Peter's Basilica on February 18, 2012 in Vatican City, Vatican. The 84 year old Pontiff installed 22 new cardinals during the ceremony, who will be responsible for choosing his successor.  (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

New cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz (L) archbishop of Brasilia receives the biretta cap from Pope Benedict XVI in Saint Peter’s Basilica on February 18, 2012 in Vatican City, Vatican.  (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

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.

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