With yesterday′s news that Pope Benedict XVI resigns at the end of the month, the speculation begins on who will be the next pope? The Sacred College of Cardinals will gather in the Sistine Chapel and vote to select a new pope, as they are ′princes of the Church, the pope is chosen by way of an elected monarchy. As about 42% of the world′s 1.5 Billion Catholics live in Latin America, many see the 118 cardinals choosing a new Latino pope or from Africa or Asia where Catholicism is growing. Some other early favorites are Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson from Ghana, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Brazil and Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras. Other contenders include Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, Cardinal Marc Ouellet from Canada, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Austria and Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola. Even Cardinal Timothy Dolan of America and Cardinal Antonio Tagle from the Philippines are considered wild cards as potential new popes. So how will a new pope be chosen and elected?

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Much of the decision will rest upon the selected pope′s views on major Church issues, as well as their age and health. Pope Benedict XVI was chosen in 2005 mainly for his conservative views and the fact that he was older, 77. Pope John Paul II was 58 when he was voted into office, following the sudden death on Pope John Paul I who, at 65, only lived for 33 days after taking St. Peter′s seat as head of the Church. The Polish Pope wound up being one of the longest serving popes, more than 26 years. Following his death, many Vatican insiders did not want to select another ′young′ man for the job.

The selection process itself is always interesting. Under current rules, only those cardinals under the age of 80 may vote and are eligible for election. Cardinal electors lock themselves away during the papal conclave, reducing any outside interference in the selection. One elector is chosen to be the Dean of the College of Cardinals, and oversees the elections. Once the electors are sworn in under oath, only a handful of personnel are allowed any contact with them. Cardinals no longer may bring an assistant with them to the conclave, only a nurse if there is a health issue.

The voting itself begins on the first day, with one vote in the afternoon. After which, four ballots are held daily, two in the morning and two more in the afternoon. After the first three days of voting, if no candidate receives the necessary two-thirds-plus-one majority to be chosen pope, voting is suspended for one day. After this, following the next set of seven ballots, another day is taken off for prayer and politicking. If, after another seven ballots still fail to produce a pope, voting is again suspended for one day and resumes with a ′run-off′ ballot between the last two highest vote-getters.

Most people are probably familiar with the significance of watching a particular chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel. All voting is done with paper ballots. When a vote fails to produce a winner, then straw is mixed in with the ballots and burned, producing a cloud of black smoke. The ballots that do succeed in selecting a new pope are burned without any additives, producing a cloud of white smoke. This is the signal to the thousands whom will gather outside in St, Peter′s Square awaiting a decision.

So as Pope Benedict XVI resigns at the end of February, the Scared College of Cardinals will begin to gather at the Sistine Chapel to vote. Who will be the next pope? Some odds makers are already starting a betting line giving good odds to candidates like Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson and Cardinal Angelo Scola. With so many Catholics in Latin America, other candidates like Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Brazil and Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras are in the running. All depends on how the Cardinals view who will be best to hold the Catholic Church together in these troubled times.