As details emerge about what Pope Benedict XVI plans for his imminent retirement - he'll be called "pope emeritus," live in the Vatican next door to the radio station, keep his white papal cassock but swap his signature red shoes for brown loafers, according to the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi — a bigger issue is swirling: who will be his successor?
Or as Sandro Magister, the commentator and author of political histories of the church, wrote on his blog, www.chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it, "Who Will Take Up the Keys of Peter?"
The pope's last day at work, officially, is Thursday, Feb. 28. In the middle of March, 117 cardinals will gather in Rome to select a new leader, Mr. Magister wrote. They've done it many times before.
"But this time it will be completely different," Mr. Magister wrote. The pope's resignation took the cardinals by surprise, coming "like a thief in the night." There hasn't been time for the discussions beforehand that would allow them "to arrive at the conclave with sufficiently vetted options already in place" about a suitable successor, he wrote.
In papal terms, it's a roller-coaster ride. So who are the main candidates?
(Read Now: How the Pope's Retirement Package Compares to Yours )
Lists vary, but Mr. Magister, a respected commentator, offers an interesting one: three Italians, three North Americans, and Luis Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, capital of the Philippines, Asia's only majority-Catholic nation. He was elevated to cardinal last year in Rome.
In his mid-50s, Cardinal Tagle is popular at home, according to reports in the Philippine media. He's considered humble, coming from a working-class family outside Manila, and is truly interested in charitable work. As the Inquirer.net wrote in a headline: "Philippine papal bet wants people power for Church." In the article, one of Cardinal Tagle's mentors, Father Rome Ner, was quoted as saying he possesses "remarkable empathy, as well as discipline and intellect."