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Posted April 19, 2005

In 1978, the election of the Polish-born Karol Wojtyla brought an end a line of Italian popes stretching back four-and-a-half centuries. So one of the big questions this time round is whether Italy will get the papacy back. Many Vatican watchers are far from convinced they will, for the simple reason that the proportion of Italians in the electoral body has declined in recent years.

Much more likely, they believe, is that the next pope will be from the developing world - and most likely from Latin America, whose cardinals now form a powerful voting bloc. Because of the mathematics of the voting system, the winner is likely to be a middle-of-the road cardinal, rather than someone with extreme views. Below are some of the “papabili” listed by age.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (78) heads the Vatican department once known as the Holy Inquisition, and his views could be very influential. A theologian from Germany, his job has earned him the nickname of "the Pope's enforcer" and he has been accused of trying to silence church dissidents.

Cardinal Francis Arinze (72) is a Nigerian who has long been regarded as a serious contender. He heads the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which reviews liturgical texts. If a black pope is to emerge from this conclave, he probably has the best chance.

Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi (71) = the Archbishop of Milan, may now be Italy's best chance of regaining the papacy. Regarded as a moderate conservative, he could be a consensus candidate. The bookmakers have made him one of the favorites, but that may count against him. According to an old Vatican saying, "he who goes into the conclave a pope, comes out a cardinal".

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re (71) is an Italian who is highly rated for his administrative skills. After a successful career as a church diplomat, he became a key adviser to John Paul II. He now heads the Vatican department that appoints bishops.

Cardinal Godfried Danneels (71) of Belgium might appeal to voters who want to see less power centred on Rome. His views are regarded as middle of the road. On sexual morality, he says the church cannot change its fundamental principles.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes (70) could be one of the dark horses of this race. As Archbishop of Sao Paulo in Brazil, he is a member of the increasingly powerful South American bloc that now makes up almost one-fifth of the electors. Now aged 70, he is about the right age.

Cardinal Ivan Dias (69) the Archbishop of Bombay, is one of 11 Asian cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave. He is in his late 60s, and had a long career as a Vatican diplomat before returning to his home city. He has travelled widely, and was papal nuncio in Korea and Albania. He is increasingly mentioned as a strong candidate from the developing world.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera (63) is the Archbishop of Mexico City, and runs a huge diocese of 19 million people. He is active on social issues, and has spoken out on human rights. Born in 1942, he is perhaps a little young to be considered a serious contender this time round.

Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga (62) of Honduras has emerged as another contender from Latin America. He supports debt relief for poorer countries and, if elected pope, would see one of his tasks as addressing the conflict between the global economy and the millions who live in poverty.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (60) is Archbishop of Vienna, and a rising star. He is frequently mentioned as a future pope, although conventional wisdom says he is too young to be elected this time. After the lengthy papacy of John Paul II, the conclave may look for an older cardinal, who will not live so long.