Vatican City The intense guessing game over who will be the next pope has only one certainty: the cardinals must decide whether to follow John Paul with another non-Italian or hand the papacy back to its traditional caretakers.
The Polish-born John Paul was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and brought a new vitality to the Vatican and challenged parochial attitudes throughout the church. One view holds the papal electors will want to maintain the spirit by recognizing the Roman Catholic centres of gravity outside Europe in Latin America and Africa.
Another theory suggests the Italians will press to reclaim the papacy after John Paul's 26-year reign the third-longest in history.
There is no clear favourite when the 117 cardinals begin their secret conclave later this month.
But names often mentioned as "papabile" the Italian word for possible papal candidates include Francis Cardinal Arinze, a Vatican-based Nigerian, and Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes.
Cardinal Arinze, 72, converted to Roman Catholicism as a child and shares some of John Paul's conservative views on contraception and family issues. But he brings a unique element: representing a country shared by Muslims and Christians at the time when interfaith relations assumes growing urgency. If elected, he would be the first black pope of modern times.
Cardinal Hummes, 70, is Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil and urges more attention to fighting poverty and the effects of a globalized economies. His supporters note Brazil's role as a Latin American political and economic heavyweight that could help the Vatican counter the popularity of emerging evangelical churches in the region.
Oscar Cardinal Andres Rodiguez Maradiaga of Honduras, the 62-year-old Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, is also mentioned as a possible candidate. But he could be too much of a break for Vatican conservatives. He has studied clinical psychology and has a dynamic, outspoken style.
Among Italians, Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Milan, is a moderate with natural pastoral abilities and an easy style that appeals to the young. But Cardinal Tettamanzi, 71, is not considered widely travelled and some critics believe he could to impose too strong an Italian outlook.
Other Italians widely mentioned as possible candidates include: Angelo Cardinal Scola of Venice, 63, who is relatively young and brings a cosmopolitan flair from his city at historic cultural crossroads and Giovanni Battista Re, 71, who has served as president of the Vatican commission for Latin America since 2001.
Within Europe, several cardinals are seen as possible rising stars, potentially able to win support in the way Karol Wojtyla, then Archbishop of Krakow, Poland, did in the 1978 conclave that elevated him to pope. They include: Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, 69, who is multilingual and has diplomatic flair and Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, 71, who is well-known in both political and diplomatic circles.
John Paul's papacy was so long, some Vatican watchers suggest the conclave could look to an older "transitional" pope, who would not try to put a strong personal stamp on the papacy.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, a German who heads the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is the leading name under this scenario. Cardinal Ratzinger, who will turn 78 before the conclave, was a close confidant of the late pope and is favoured by those who want to preserve John Paul's conservative views.
Europe has the biggest bloc with 58 papal electors cardinals under 80 years old. Italy alone has 20.
Latin America has 21 and Africa brings 11. The United States also has 11 cardinals and could sway the voting if they remain united. There are three Canadian cardinals. A U.S. pope is considered a virtual impossibility because of the Vatican would avoid any such a deep and complicated association with the world's sole superpower.
Any other forecast would find itself on shaky ground.
One only has to recall that after two days and eight rounds of voting 26 years ago, the name of Karol Wojtyla never mentioned as a serious candidate was announced to the crowd in St. Peter's Square. Many were baffled.