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Italians hoping for a homegrown pope

Published: 2/19/13 @ 12:00


Los Angeles Times

VATICAN CITY

He’s God’s own man, but Italians think he should be theirs, too.

Now, after a 35-year hiccup, they have a good shot at making that true again. As the derby begins to replace Pope Benedict XVI, who stunned the world last week by announcing his intention to retire at the end of the month, Italy is aiming to resume the line of homegrown pontiffs who reigned for more than 450 years until John Paul II, a Pole, came along in 1978.

Italians figure high on the list of likely successors to the German-born Benedict and, by a wide margin, form the single largest national bloc — though far from a majority — among the cardinals who will choose the next occupant of St. Peter’s throne.

But chances of a glorious restoration are tempered by strong candidates from other regions, missteps by senior Italians in the Vatican and the reality that the center of gravity of the global church has shifted, perhaps permanently, away from Europe. Many Roman Catholics believe that in the 21st century, their leadership would be better off a little less Roman and a lot more catholic.

“Personally, I think it’d be cool to have a North American or African pope, even if they are conservative,” said Carla Mazzone, 20, an American exchange student who lined up outside St. Peter’s Basilica to attend Benedict’s last public Mass on Ash Wednesday. “It would make things more global, kind of like when Obama became president.”

Vatican-watchers have identified some serious contenders from outside Europe to be the 266th pontiff, including prelates from Canada, Ghana and Argentina (though the last was born to Italian parents).

Yet the still-speculative list of top papabili, or wannabe popes, shows Italy to be hugely overrepresented compared with the proportion of Italian Catholics in the worldwide church.

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