Is the world ready for a black pope? Or a latino one? Or even an American one? Pope Benedict the 16th, the eve of Lent, said he was stepping down because of age and declining health, and hats off to him. His Holiness saw the toll it took on John Paul the 2nd, who actually was a year younger than Benedict is now when he died, and realized it takes someone with more vibrance and energy to lead the largest and oldest Christian denomination in the world. Some think New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan might have a chance to succeed him. Or, as Father Steve Verhelst at St. Mary's Church in Willmar told me, a pope with links to or even from The Third World, latin America or Africa, would be welcome. That is where the church is seeing it's greatest growth, and maybe having an African pope would be what is needed to check the spread of Islam in that continent. While Catholicism, and Christianity in general, seems to be on the wane in "developed" countries and "The West", where we seem to have all we need and no need of a god that tells us what to do and what we're doing wrong, it's growing where there is still weeping poverty and misery like starvation, small pox and polio and malaria. In other words, a place in need of hope. The media, and maybe rightly so, has done a great job making the Catholic Church look like the "place to be" for pedophiles, turning the public against it. At the same time the public and the media is screaming for gay Boy Scout leaders and gay marriage. Some may say, "it's about time" while others can't help but see a rotten moral core to society getting greener, hairier and stinkier by the day. Father Verhelst says he hopes the new pope has an ear to hear what Catholics have to say and is tuned to the modern world, while still respecting church traditions. I don't know if that's possible. The "Third World" is certainly more conservative than "The West" and a pope from there would almost certainly continue to fight against openly gay clergy, gay marriage and female clergy. Maybe that's what Christianity needs...someone to make a stand. Or it could be the nail in the coffin of a church outsiders see as out of touch with the "modern world." Good luck making your choice, Cardinal College. I have to believe the future of the church, more than ever, rides on your choice.