The race now begins.
The "Help Wanted" sign is out at the Vatican and if there is any indication to history, a succesor from the conclave could be found within two hours or two weeks. In any case, the odds are good for the election of a pope outside of Europe yet the conclave, where the princes of the Church are sequestered to vote by secret ballot, has been known to deliver surprises. The world will know when the 266th pope has been chosen when and ONLY when white smoke billows from the Sistine Chapel chimney.
Here are six possible candidates that could be the next pontiff. (courtesy Bloomberg News and the Associated Press)
1. Francis Arinze (Nigeria) - Born: November 1, 1932
Arinze would be the first African pope for more than 1,500 years -- the last was Gelasius I, who reigned at the end of the fifth century. A social and theological conservative, Arinze's views on celibacy, women priests, homosexuality and contraception are considered close to those of Benedict XVI.
2. Christoph Schonborn (Austria) - Born: January 22, 1945
The Cardinal has guided Vienna through church scandals including allegations of priests using pornography and engaging in pedophilia. Considered a brilliant conservative theologian, he speaks French, English, Italian, Spanish and Latin, and has traveled widely on behalf of the Vatican, including trips to Moscow and Istanbul. He studied under Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI, after becoming a priest at age 25. He is in favor of dialogue between Catholicism and Islam, and was the highest-ranked Church official to visit Iran after the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
3. Peter Turkson (Ghana) - Born: October 11, 1948
Turkson, who studied theology in New York, is younger than Arinze and was called "one of Africa's most energetic church leaders" by The Tablet, an influential British Catholic magazine and in 2009 said that "if God would wish to see a black man also as pope, thanks be to God." He has engaged with contemporary issues, including the global economic crisis by calling for more oversight over financial institutions and denouncing the "idolatry of the market."
4. Marc Ouellet (Canada) - Born: June 8, 1944
The Quebecois cardinal is an accomplished theologian whose writings were admired by Benedict, whose concerns about the modernization of the church he shared. "It would seem that, in the name of secularism, the Bible must be relativized, to be dissolved in a religious pluralism and disappear as a normative cultural reference," Ouellet said in 2011 in his powerful role as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
5. Leonardo Sandri (Argentina) - Born: November 18, 1943
The man who announced the death of John Paul II to the world in 2005, the native from Buenos Aires scaled the height of the church hierarchy to occupy the third most important position in the Vatican between 2000 and 2007 as de facto chief of staff to the Secretary of State. He now has a lower profile as head of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
6. Angelo Scola (Italian) - Born: November 7, 1941
The Archbishop of Milan is the frontrunner among the Italians, who until the 1970s had a virtual lock on the papacy. With Benedict he shared philosophical and theologian interests and his writings on a range of topics from bio-ethics to sexuality have been published in different languages.
7. Odilo Scherer (Brazil) - Born: September 21, 1949
A Brazilian of German descent, Scherer is Archbishop of Sao Paolo and as such oversees 6 million Catholics in the country's biggest archdiocese. In the birthplace of liberation theology, he struck a moderate tone by seeing worth in focusing on social injustice and poverty while reserving criticism for the movement's "Marxism."
Photos and bios courtesy Bloomberg News and the Associated Press