A Tale of Two Popes: John Paul II and Benedict XVI, A Study in Contrast (PHOTOS & VIDEOS)

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These two cartoons depicting the last two popes of the Roman Catholic Church tell it all how wide a gap exists between the two pontiffs in terms of popularity.

Pope John Paul II is so well-loved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and even cartoonists, that cartoons about the pontiff on the Internet show him mostly being welcomed into heaven. That perception appears to be matched with reality as the late pontiff is on the road to sainthood since he was beatified in a record time of six years and one month after his death in 2005.

In contrast, Pope Benedict XVI, who announced on Monday that he would resign the papacy on Feb 28, has generated much negativity, ranging from his decision to quit - a path not taken by previous popes the past 600 years - to the rising number of clergy abuse and the Vatican's orthodox stand on many modern-day issues.

Thus his resignation sparked hope in some for changes in the way the pope would be elected.

However, the unprecedented act by the pontiff was accompanied by humour such as his using Twitter

to being a model for doddering European monarchs

and his adding to the ranks of the unemployed.

But inevitably, the cartoons return to a comparison between John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Prior to his beatification, the growing popularity of John Paul II, born in Poland as Karol Wojtyla, was becoming very apparent with more visits to his tomb and relics by pilgrims around the world.

The contrast between the two popes was highlighted by Francis Rocca, a religious news service correspondent who wrote in a Wall Street Journal column that the reason behind the unpopularity of Benedict XVI, who was born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany, is his assertion of the tenets of the Catholic faith that the more secularised world does not welcome.

Other proofs of Pope John Paul II's popularity is the attendance in the 1995 World Youth Day in Manila, Philippines and 2000 in Vatican City which drew record crowds of 5 million and 2 million, respectively.

When John Paul II died in 2005, Benedict XVI continued the WYD international celebrations, but those events where he presided drew lesser crowds of 1.2 million in Cologne, Germany in 2005, 400,000 in Sydney, Australia in 2008, and 1.4 million in Madrid, Spain.

The mid-March conclave that would see the election of Benedict's successor would indicate if the contrast between the two vicars of Christ would further widen.

One common thread among papal elections since the 15th century is the betting on who will be the next pope.

Indicating that gambling on papal conclaves has updated with the times, betting now is mostly done on the Internet since majority of conventional sports books like those in Las Vegas do not take bets on papal election outcomes.

Paddy Power, Ireland's largest bookmaker, has taken more than 100,000 euro worth of bets since Pope Benedict XVI announced he would quit his post. He said the three-to-one favourite is Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

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