The election of this pope could quite possibly be a turning point for the Catholic Church. A lot hinges on this serious choice.
Meanwhile, at the crazy intersection where the secular world and religion often collide, a British oddsmaker, Paddy Power, has decided to handicap the election of the new pope.
And last week, Paddy Power posted his off-the cuff guesses online.
The choices reflect the latest conventional wisdom. And though conventional wisdom is notoriously unwise, it's interesting to see a glimpse of the thoughts running through people's minds.
At the moment, the front-runner for pope is Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, with Italy's Archbishop Angelo Scola in second. Two Africans — Cardinal Peter Turkson and Cardinal Francis Arinze — are moving up on the outside. Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga from Latin America is also in contention.
American candidates trail very badly.
The odds of famous atheist author, Richard Dawkins, being chosen as the next pope are listed at 666 to 1.
Bono, lead singer for the rock group U2, is a long shot at 1,000 to 1.
Paddy Power puts himself at 500 to 1.
But being the dutiful soul he is, Paddy Power doesn't stop with who the new pope will be. He goes on to list the choices in a dozen other areas.
The pope will choose a new name, of course. And right now the feeling is he will choose the name Peter — the ancient apostle that Catholics believe was their first pope.
The name Pius is second on the list, John is third, John Paul fourth, Paul is fifth with Benedict at sixth.
Actually, I think there's a good chance the new pope will choose the name Benedict as an homage to his predecessor, much the way John Paul I and John Paul II combined the names of previous popes. Perhaps he'll even choose the name Peter Benedict, though that does sound a little like the name of a B-list movie star.
The most likely country of origin for the new pope is Italy.
And — according to conventional wisdom — the conclave is expected to last one day with the pontiff being selected on the fourth ballot.
All of this, of course, is just good cheeky fun.
So, while the gamblers among us are crossing their fingers for luck, the rest of us may want to cross our fingers as well.
Crossed fingers, more than a mere superstition, were also an ancient Christian gesture used in prayer.
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