In Africa, where the Catholic church continues to grow, worshippers and clergy there greeted Pope Benedict XVI's announcement Monday that he planned resign with hopes that the continent would see one of its own rise to lead the faithful.
"I think we would have a better chance of getting someone outside of the northern hemisphere this time, because there are some really promising cardinals from other parts of the world," Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa told The Associated Press. "It's a question of where is the kind of (and) the quality of leadership evident at the moment: Coming from a growing background rather than a holding or a maintenance background?"
Some 176 million people in Africa are Catholic, roughly a third of all Christians across the continent, according to a December 2011 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Meanwhile, the number of Catholics in Europe, the traditional stronghold of the church, has dropped in recent years.
The African nation with the biggest Christian population, Nigeria, has some 20 million practicing Catholics. In Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, trader Chukwuma Awaegwu put his feelings simply Monday: "If I had my way an African should be the next pope, or someone from Nigeria."
"It's true; they brought the religion to us, but we have come of age," Awaegwu said. "In America, now we have a black president. So let's just feel the impact of a blackpope."
Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, a Nigerian who was made a cardinal in November by Pope Benedict XVI, told the AP he thought Catholics would accept the pontiff's decision as "God's will and the church will keep moving."
"Popes come and popes go. It doesn't mean when a pope comes the church completely changes, now. It isn't like a politician who wins an election and begins to implement manifestos," Onaiyekan said. "It is a different ball game all together and I hope people out there realize that."
There are cardinals that have previously been discussed in the past as potential pontiffs. The most prominent African cardinal mentioned as a possible first blackpope was Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. But he retired from the Vatican office in charge of rules for celebrating the liturgy around the world in 2008 and is 80, making him an unlikely choice. Another discussed is Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who was named to head the Vatican's justice and peace office in 2009. Turkson is 64 and still works in the Vatican.
Asked about whether a pope should come from Latin America or Africa, Onaiyekan hinted that he could welcome that.
"It is time for a pope from anywhere in the world right now because the church belongs to all of us," he said.