The worldwide outpouring of affection for Pope John Paul II (search) may have convinced the cardinals choosing the next pope that today's Roman Catholic Church has no room for a so-called "transitional" leader.
The profile of a pope who knows how to communicate and to bridge cultural and religious divides fits a number of the 115 cardinals assembling in the conclave that begins Monday. Those contenders include Brazil's Claudio Hummes (search), Argentina's Jorge Bergoglio and Austria's Christoph Schoenborn (search).
Both Hummes, 70, and Bergoglio, 68, have been highly visible advocates for the poor, questioning the benefits of globalization and free-market policies. Schoenborn is the model of a modern churchman — a multilingual scholar who has reached out to Jews, Muslims and Orthodox Christians — although at 60 he may be considered too young.
Certainly, the election of Hummes or another Latin American could have a profound impact on the region, home to nearly half the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics, which is facing a strong challenge from evangelical Protestants and social tensions from the growing divide between rich and poor.
Much as the election of Poland's John Paul marked the church's response to communism in eastern Europe during the Cold War, the election of an able Latin American could signal the church's stand in support of the world's poor and oppressed.
The election of a cardinal like German Joseph Ratzinger, 78, whose stock appeared high as the cardinals gathered in Rome for John Paul's funeral, would mean a transition papacy. The selection of Hummes or another younger man would be a sign that the cardinals want to keep up John Paul's dynamism.
In interviews published in the most recent issue of the Jesuit weekly America, several cardinals described the qualities required of the next pontiff.
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles dismissed the possibility of a pope from such countries as France or Germany, where "practically nobody goes to church."
"What we are looking for is how to have the future pope be somebody who represents a dynamic part of the world," Mahony said.
Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Indonesia said John Paul "was accepted as a human being and as a moral leader" by people of different religions. The next pope will be someone who can bridge the differences and communicate with people of different cultures, he said.
By official Italian count, more than 3 million pilgrims streamed past the body of Pope John Paul II as he lay in state in St. Peter's Basilica. David Gibson, a former Vatican radio newsman and author of "The Coming Catholic Church," said the public displays for John Paul "recalibrated" the cardinals' views.
"I think there was a realization that they have to make a more dramatic move than they would have before," Gibson said.
"The thing it made them realize is how much John Paul personalized the papacy and made it authority by charisma, so there's a sense that you need someone who can also wield authority by who he is, rather than just what he said."
From their records, no one under consideration as the next pope shows any break with John Paul's stand against contraception, his campaigns against abortion and gay marriage or his opposition to women priests or a non-celibate priesthood.
Those close to Hummes in Brazil, however, believe he would be a balanced pontiff.
"He would be a modern pope who will know how to balance traditional Christian ideas with concern for the poor," said Lourdes Hummes Graf, the cardinal's cousin.
Hummes' reputation has been strengthened by his long support for Brazil's working class. As a bishop 30 years ago, he gave refuge to metalworkers staging an illegal strike — among them a fiery union leader named Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is now Brazil's president.
Bergoglio's critics say he did not take a strong enough stand against Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship, but his defenders say his opposition came behind the scenes. In 2000, he led an effort by the church seeking public forgiveness for its inaction — in line with John Paul's frequent calls for the church to recognize its failings.
In Buenos Aires, a human rights lawyer, Marcelo Parrilli, also filed a criminal complaint against Bergoglio on Friday, accusing him of involvement in the 1976 kidnappings of two priests. No specifics were given and the cardinal's spokesman rejected the allegations, calling them "old slander."
A transitional pope would presumably keep travel down, in contrast to the 104 foreign pilgrimages John Paul made during his 26-year papacy, but even he would apparently already be locked into at least one trip.
The German church, a major financial contributor to the Vatican, has gone ahead in organizing a youth event in August in Cologne that John Paul had agreed to attend. Hundreds of thousands of youths are expected and millions of dollars have already been spent.