As an Irish-Catholic, I have one main goal for this conclave: to see it live when the white smoke comes out. Eight years ago, I missed it and woke up to see the new Benedict XVI on TV. The cardinals who just got locked into the Sistine Chapel have a bit loftier goal, though: Pick the right guy to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

He who goes in the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal, goes the saying, and the assumption that there isn’t a clear front-runner going into the first balloting was confirmed with the first puff of black smoke. Patrick Reddy has highlighted the potential benefit of picking a Hispanic pope; I’ve argued an African pope could be a huge morale booster to push back the spread of Islamic extremism. But the eventual pope’s credentials — pastoral experience, Vatican experience, orthodox or reformer, studious intellectual or crowd-pleasing preacher — won’t please everyone. So it’s a matter of having faith that the best person for this point in history will lead the flock.

Some names being floated out there going into the conclave: Angelo Scola (too Italian?), Canadian Marc Ouellet (who has said the job would be a “nightmare”), Odilo Pedro Scherer (Archbishop of São Paulo who loves Twitter), Christoph Schönborn (a noble intellectual Austrian), and Americans Timothy Dolan or Sean O’Malley. Read the excellent pro-con papabile profiles by John L. Allen Jr. at National Catholic Reporter.

My favorites? Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, whose youth and infectious enthusiasm would bring a new vivacity to the Church; Sri Lanka’s Malcolm Ranjith, a natural leader and seasoned diplomat; and John Onaiyekan of Nigeria — below, a clip where he says countries threatened by Islamic terrorism shouldn’t just “sit and wait for the French to help them out.”

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