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This morning the 115 cardinals begin their period in conclave, where they will choose the next pontiff of the 1.2 billion strong Roman Catholic Church, by celebrating Mass before beginning their deliberations in the Sistine Chapel.
But who are the men who will seek a common mind on the new leader of the largest Christian communion in the world?
The answer to that question is available not just through official biographies and news agencies, but via a crowd-sourced resource entitled 'what the cardinals believe', which is available here: http://www.cardinalrating.com/
The role of new media around the fringes of this election is an interesting new development, and contrasts rather significantly with the intensified secrecy (or confidentiality, if you prefer) of the process itself.
Just as former Pope Benedict XVI became the first to embrace Twitter, so social networking will be furiously busy informing and speculating around the conclave over the next few days - though the cardinals themselves will have no means of communication with the outside world at all as they confer, and Vatican staff are sworn to secrecy by a vow which would lead to excommunication if breached.
It is anticipated that a new pope may be announced on Wednesday or Thursday. Two clear demarcation lines seem to have been established in the pre-discussions. One is between the Italian and some other Western cardinals, and those from the two-thirds world where - in contrast to Europe and North America - the Church is growing.
The other, as Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa (young at 42, but an outsider) observed, is between those who have been shaped by the managerial bureaucracy of the Curia, and those who take a more pastoral approach.
If responding to the leading edge of the developing world is recognised as the priority, it may be that a pope from Africa, Asia or Latin America will emerge. But if caution combined with a desire to get to grips with internal issues proves uppermost, it may be an Italian. Few rate the chances of a North American. The choice could well confound the majority of predictions, however.
* 'What the cardinals believe'. Find out, and contribute, here: http://www.cardinalrating.com/
* Papal #conclave: news, comment, background and analysis from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/PapalConclave
© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. A member of the Scottish Episcopal Church with strong Anabaptist/Mennonite leanings, he has worked at a Catholic university college in the past, as well as within the ecumenical movement. He has a long-standing interest in, and appreciation for, Catholic spirituality and liturgy, alongside the peace and justice traditions of the Catholic Church.Tweet