All eyes are now on Vatican City after the cardinals announced on Friday that the conclave or the election of the new pope will begin on Tuesday, March 12.
But even before the Vietnamese cardinal arrived on Thursday to complete the 115 cardinal electors, there are speculations that the princes of the Roman Catholic Church are divided who would next lead the 1.2 billion faithful.
Reuters New Cardinal George Alencherry (R) of India talks with Cardinal Timothy Dolan (R) of the U.S. during a consistory ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican February 18, 2012. Pope Benedict XVI installed 22 new Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world on Saturday.
One group is in favour of keeping tradition by electing a cardinal from Europe to succeed Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who retired on Feb 28 after eight years as pontiff. Another group is pushing for a pope from third world countries because the bulk of the Catholics now are from Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Even Americans are convinced of the latter argument. A Pew Research Center survey released in late February said that 60 per cent of U.S. Catholics are in favour of an Asian, African or South American pope. The last two popes, as the majority of the 265 past pontiffs, were Europeans. Pope Benedict is German and Pope Paul II was Polish.
"American Catholics are aware that no other North American group is an important to the Church as Latinos. It's not surprising how attracted they are to having a pope from south of the equator," Foxnews quoted Paul Lakeland, a religious studies professor at the Fairfield University in Connecticut.
The preference for a third world pope appears to be linked to a preference for a more liberal pope who would address controversial popular issues in a 21st century perspective such as the church's mandatory celibacy requirements for priests.
But Mr Lakeland admits that chances of a third world pope are not so bright because while the growth of members is concentrated in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the bulk of the Church's problem is in Europe.
Because of the sexual abuse cases involving mostly western clergy, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), released on Wednesday its Dirty Dozen, which refers to a list of 12 cardinals who do not deserve to become pope because of their alleged poor handling of sex abuse cases.
Those on SNAP's list are Cardinals Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee, Sean O'Malley of Boston, Donald Wuerl of Washington, Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, Norberto River of Mexico, Marc Ouellet of Canada, Peter Turkson of Ghana, George Pell of Australia, Tarcisio Bertone of Italy, Angelo Scola of Italy, Leonardo Sandri of Argentina and Dominik Duka of the Czech Republic.
The next day, SNAP released three church leaders whom the group considered as the best papal candidates based on their record on how they handled sex abuse cases. They are Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Austria and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Ireland.
Vatican observers said that Cardinal Tagle, even though his stock rose as a result of the SNAP recommendation and is considered now a papabile, has remote chances because of his young age of 55 and the faster growth of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America and Africa.
If bets were the basis of selecting the new pope, Cardinal Turkson has the best chances. Besides Cardinal Turkson, who has been given an 11-4 odds or becoming pope by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, other bettors' choices are Italian Cardinals Angelo Scola (3-1), Tarcisio Bertone (6-1) and Angelo Bagnasco (6-1), Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet (6-1) and Argentinean Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (12-1).
Other than guessing who would be the next pope, there are also speculations what would be his new papal name.
But that choice is in the hands of the princes of the church and whoever the cardinals will bless with their votes will certainly face immense problems, particularly addressing issues such as the sex abuse cases, corruption in the Vatican and Catholics growing cold in their faith and losing trust in church leaders.
An African cardinal pointed out that even if the next pope manages to address these major issues, the church would remain an imperfect institution because it is run by error-prone human beings.
"If you say the church needs to reform and improve, it would be the first to admit it, because the church has never reached the end of its journey. The church is always under reform," Catholic News Service quoted Nigerian Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan.
New Cardinal George Alencherry (R) of India talks with Cardinal Timothy Dolan (R) of the U.S. during a consistory ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican February 18, 2012. Pope Benedict XVI installed 22 new Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world on Saturday.