Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
Any day now the cardinals of the Catholic church will huddle in the Sistine Chapel to choose the next pope.
Who is the holy, humble, super human who canlead the modern Catholic world of more than a billion believers? Who can preach eternal truth while confronting contemporary spiritual, social, economic and political challenges?
Americans are only 6% of the global church and the issues that loom large here -- the clergy abuse crisis, contraception or whether priests can marry or women be ordained -- may not be top-of-mind elsewhere.
"The great populations of Africa, Latin America and Asia are not thinking about those things," says Rev. Patrick Ryan, professor of religion and society at Fordham University in New York who has spent 26 years in Africa.
"When I read that The New York Times suggested one of the major problems Benedict faced was same-sex marriage, I burst out laughing," Ryan says.
The Catholic world has shifted radically south, to lands where the more urgent issues may be immigration and refugees, poverty and economic inequality, or human rights and social justice in the face of oppression and corruption.
In 1910, the faith was anchored in Europe (65% of all Catholics). In 2010, Europe was only 24% of the worldwide church. The leading regions have become Latin America (39%), Sub-Saharan Africa (16%) and the Asia-Pacific region (12%), according to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public life.
"These people want to see a pope living his faith with joy and exuberance, someone with a public personality that embraces the future, not living in a state of mourning for a world that no linger exists," says Ryan.
He could be Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, 65-year-old charmer who's fluent in least six languages, or Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, 73. of the Republic of Congo, who had the courage to call the last national election a rigged ballot, says Ryan.
Fordham associate professor of theology Michael Lee sees the concerns of Latin American Catholics for another set of issues: The environment is endangered as development and pollution strip away at the Amazon basin. There's increasing competition for attention from other religions and a reviving interest in indigenous spirituality. And many want to see a shift to more power-sharing between the Vatican and national bishops' conferences, says Lee, who teaches in Fordham's Latin American Studies program.
Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski sees a pope as someone who can change the world in real time as the world's greatest promoter of human rights and democracy.
While everyone speaks of Pope John Paul II's powerful influence in supporting Polish workers and cracking the wall of Communism, few remember other places where his presence energized radical change.
"I can remember in Haiti after the pope visited in 1983," says Wenski. Pope John Paul II said things have to change and when (dictator Jean-Claude) Duvalier was overthrown in 1986, the people called out, 'Thank you, church!' In the Philippines, when Marco was ousted, people thought it was the clear voice of human rights of the Filipino church."
Wherever they are, says Wenski, "most people are looking for the church not to be hunkered down and turned in on herself but to give witness to the dignity of the human person and be a voice for the voiceless."
Yet, even as he insists that the 2,000-year-old church is "not a fossilized relic," Wenski adds that some contemporary efficiency, maybe a few MBAs on board, wouldn't hurt.
Not a bit, says, Felipe Avillez of Lisbon, 32, is looking primarily for a pope who is a man of prayer, but right behind that, he says, "We need a Pope who either has a firmer grasp of management and can get things running smoothly, or at least knows how to delegate to the right people to do so for him, he says,
Almost no one would object to a master manager pope who could drop-kick the baroque bureaucracy of the church, the curia, into the 21st century.
But don't hold your breath for a CEO apostle.
"People have called for cleaning out the curia since Pope Gregory VII," who died in 1085, observes University of Dayton, chair of religious studies Daniel Thompson
Thompson says the pope's real job isn't about facile changes, it's about addressing the deepest spiritual questions shared by humanity at any address: "Why would faith in Jesus be significant now? And how do you live it?"
Perhaps the next pope could also be a listener, attuned to lay men and women's everyday lives, says Jeannine Hill Fletcher, associate professor at Fordham, who describes herself as a Catholic feminist theologian.
"Women want to be treated as full members of this church. They want to give their gifts and be taken seriously as moral agents and contribute to the discussions in the light of their experiences," says Hill Fletcher.
Everyone has an idea who might be ideal.
Claire Mathieson, news editor for the Southern Cross, a Catholic paper in South Africa, says "the Holy Spirit will be in control" of the election. But if that spirit is taking notes, "we'd love to see Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson step up. We'd like to see greater African representation and consideration in the Vatican."
The Philippines, the third largest Catholic nation after Brazil and Mexico with 75.6 million followers, has its favorite son as well.
Chances are slim for Cardinal Luis Tagle. He's just 55, one of the newest and youngest in the College of Cardinals. But he has qualities that count, says Clarissa Reyes, 43, a Catholic radio show host in Quezon City.
He listens, he's dynamic and he knows the issues that matter to her. Those are fighting poverty and corruption and standing firm for the traditional family in a nation where a new bill sets up government funding for contraception, she says.
But whether the next pope comes from the Global South or the modern West, he still has to shepherd all the faithful.
Maria Concepcion Noche, 55 a law professor in Manila, Philippines, says they can't go wrong if they stay in the mold of Benedict -- "a Pope who relies on God, an Intellectual who trusts Reason, and a Man in love with Truth. The next Pope cannot be any less."
Brazilian Delanney Di Maio Neto, 21, currently studying philosophy in Rome, wants someone "contemplative and conquering, sagacious with hypocrites; Sincere, realistic and supremely practical, prudent, moderated and discrete, faithful, above all, man of convictions and values: another Christ."
For Sophie Nouaille, 43, a Catholic Radio consultant in France, the list of qualities is shorter.
"He need not be "a 'pope star' but someone who understands the world he lives in," says Nouaille.
That point resonates with Lynn Freeman, 29, of South Bend, IN., a free lance writer often featured on Busted Halo, a web site for young Catholics.
Name an Italian, an Argentine, an Canadian or Ghanaian. Popes come and go, says Freeman,
"I don't think the pope -- just one person -- is going to sustain my faith. And the idea is to keep the faith," no matter who takes Benedict's vacant throne.