These are profiles of cardinals being touted to succeed Pope John Paul II as head of the world's more than one billion Roman Catholics.

They are listed in alphabetical order.

Francis Arinze (Nigerian) born on November 1, 1932

Cardinal Francis Arinze, 72, was for nearly 20 years the Vatican's point man for relations with Islam, a key issue for cardinals choosing the next Pope.

If elected, he would become the first African Pope in more than 1,500 years.

Cardinal Arinze has been working at the Vatican since 1984, when Pope John Paul named him as head of the department that handles relations with all non-Christian religions except Judaism.

He rose to cardinal the following year, becoming one of the Church's highest-ranking Africans at the young age of 52. Fr Arinze began his fast-track record early, becoming a bishop at 32, only seven years after he was ordained a priest.

He also served as president of the Nigerian Bishops Conference for five years before the Pope called him to Rome. Since 2002, he has been head of the Vatican's department overseeing the details of methods of divine worship.

Aides say Cardinal Arinze is a very spiritual man. He is sometimes seen walking to his office near the Vatican, clutching rosary beads while praying, smiling all the time.

The cardinal, who changes the topic quickly when told he is a possible candidate for the papacy, believes the Church should not close up inside itself in his native Africa.

"The Church is part of society. The Christians are not a race apart. Therefore the successes of their society and the problems of society are also their successes and their problems," he once said.

A theological conservative, Cardinal Arinze has worked as a consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that keeps an eye on doctrinal integrity.

Born into an animist family in the village of Eziowelle, he was not baptised until the age of nine, when he converted to Catholicism.

Cardinal Arinze was greatly influenced as a boy by one of Nigeria's first native priests, Fr Cyprian Michael Tansi.

"Our traditional religion also worships one God, not two or more. And he is a good God," Cardinal Arinze once said of his conversion.

"But he is distant from man. Man thus makes sacrifices to the spirits and ancestors in hope that they will reach this far-away God. In Christianity, God is very close to man... Christianity seemed to me more abounding in joy."

Cardinal Arinze has been the key player for the Vatican in its sometimes difficult relations with Muslims.

While he was head of the Vatican department for non-Christians, Cardinal Arinze sent a message every year to the world's Muslims on the occasion of the fasting period Ramadan.

Relations between the two religions became increasingly important to the Vatican in the 1980s and 1990s as Christianity and Islam often appeared to be on a collision course, particularly in Africa, and Islamic fundamentalism spread.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Argentine) born on December 17, 1936

If elected the next Pope, Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 68, would be the first member of the influential Jesuit order to rise to the top of the Roman Catholic Church.

Reserved and humble, he would also present a striking personal contrast to Pope John Paul II who revolutionised the papacy by criss-crossing the globe to meet people ranging from world leaders to simple peasants.

Cardinal Bergoglio has shied away from high offices in the past, such as head of the Argentine bishops' conference or a possible senior Vatican post, but his simple lifestyle and leadership skills have kept his name among potential successors.

Unusual for a senior prelate, he first studied chemistry before deciding to enter the priesthood. Ordained in 1969 at the late age of 32, he was named provincial, or head of all Jesuits in Argentina, only four years later.

After six years as provincial, he held several academic posts and pursued further study in Germany. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and archbishop in 1998.

Stories of his humility abound. When he was appointed a cardinal in 2001, Cardinal Bergoglio persuaded hundreds of Argentines not to fly to Rome to celebrate with him but rather to donate to the poor the money they had raised for their airline tickets.

He declined to move into the luxurious archbishop's residence, preferring a simple apartment nearby where he lives with an old bishop and usually cooks dinner.

He gets around town mostly by bus, often wearing the cassock of a simple priest rather than any episcopal finery.

In 2000, as John Paul apologised for the Church's sins down the centuries, Cardinal Bergoglio had clergy wear garments of penance for sins committed during Argentina's military dictatorship.

In contrast to many activist Latin American priests, Cardinal Bergoglio prefers to stress the spiritual side of his calling and urge the faithful to follow Christ's example more fully rather than preach about the need for social justice.

The new cardinal won respect from his fellow prelates at the 2001 synod of bishops by stepping in at the last minute for a colleague and helping manage the meeting with skill.

Cardinal Bergoglio, who speaks his native Spanish, Italian and German, was promptly mentioned as a possible head of an important Vatican department but he begged off, saying: "Please, I would die in the Curia."

Cardinal Bergoglio is said to be close to Communion and Liberation, one of the movements that Pope John Paul championed as a way to revitalise the Church in the face of growing secularisation in developed countries.

The fact Cardinal Bergoglio is a Jesuit could work against him as the influential order was founded in the 16th century to serve the popes and even some Jesuits oppose the idea of one of their number becoming one.

Dario Castrillon Hoyos (Colombian) born on July 4, 1929

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 75, is one of the leading candidates from Latin America because he has the broadest range of experience and is in the right age bracket.

Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos has long experience working and running several dioceses in his native Colombia, where he served in Villa del Re, Pereira and Bucaramanga.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, he held powerful and influential posts as secretary and later president of CELAM, the conference that groups all of Latin America's bishops.

He played pivotal roles in steering the continent's Catholic churches away from controversial Liberation Theology during one of Latin America's most difficult and violent periods. To reward him, the Pope called Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos to Rome in 1996 and put him at the head of the powerful Congregation for the Clergy, which deals with priests around the world. He is considered an intelligent and very spiritual man who was extremely loyal to the Pope.

In guiding his department at the Vatican, he has emphasised that priests should remind followers of Christ and not be just social figures.

A youthful looking man with a shock of white hair, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos has often used his position of influence in the Vatican to draw attention to the problems of Latin America.

In 1997, a little-known French magazine accused him of receiving money from drug traffickers when he was bishop in Colombia.

Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos called the report insulting and said it stemmed from when a drug trafficker decided to change his ways and convert. The trafficker decided to give all his money to the poor through the bishop.

"I have never seen a cent of drug money," he said in a 1997 interview with an Italian Catholic magazine. "It was I who made public the trafficker's decision to give his money to the poor."

Giovanni Battista Re (Italian) born on January 30, 1934

Giovanni Battista Re, 71, may know the inner workings of the Vatican better than anyone else. This could either hurt or help him during a conclave to elect the next Pope.

Cardinals might be looking for an ace administrator and bureaucrat to stay at home and take care of business following the globetrotting papacy of John Paul II.

If so, they need look no further than Cardinal Re, who knows the corridors of power in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace better than the cleaners.

Cardinal Re has been working in the Vatican bureaucracy for all but the first year of the papacy of John Paul. Since 1979, he has held key positions in the Secretariat of State, ending his stint there in late 2000 after serving as deputy secretary of state for 11 years.

He is considered an ultra-loyalist who helped solve some of the thorniest administrative problems for John Paul.

The Pope rewarded him in September 2000 by appointing him to head the Congregation for Bishops, the powerful department which decides the future careers of aspiring churchmen. The congregation is called the "bishops factory". The son of a carpenter from northern Italy, Cardinal Re is a workaholic who regularly puts in 16-hour days.

Although he is a favourite of the Italian media, Cardinal Re's chances of being elected Pope could be hurt because of his near total lack of experience in dioceses outside Rome.

He entered the Vatican's diplomatic service in 1963 as a young priest and served in embassies in Panama and Iran before starting in the Secretariat of State in 1971.

Joseph Ratzinger (German) born on April 16, 1927

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who turned 78 last Saturday, seems typecast for the role of doctrinal watchdog he has played at the Vatican since 1981.

Under his meek demeanour lies a steely intellect ready to dissect theological works for their dogmatic purity and debate fiercely against dissenters. His traditionalist judgments have delighted fellow conservatives and outraged liberal Catholics and members of other faiths.

Born in Bavaria in 1927, Cardinal Ratzinger first gained attention as a liberal theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Marxism and atheism of the 1968 student protests across Europe prompted him to become more conservative to defend the faith against growing secularism.

After stints as a leading theology professor and then archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the successor office to the Inquisition, in 1981.

In that office, Cardinal Ratzinger first turned towards "liberation theology" popular in Latin America, quieting its theologians.

In 1986, he issued a firm Vatican denunciation of homosexuality and gay marriage. He brought pressure in the 1990s against theologians, mostly in Asia, who saw non-Christian religions as part of God's plan for humanity.

A 2004 document sternly denounced "radical feminism" as an ideology that undermined the family and obscured the natural differences between men and women.

His combative side came out in 2000 in a dispute over a CDF document entitled Dominus Iesus. Aimed at restating the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church against the more inclusive view developing in Asia, it branded other Christian denominations as deficient or not quite real churches.

Anglican, Lutheran and other Protestant churches which had been in ecumenical dialogue with Rome for years were shocked. They were further upset when Cardinal Ratzinger dismissed protests from Lutherans as "absurd".

He raised eyebrows with unusually sharp criticism of the Church when he took the Pope's place at a Good Friday Mass in 2005. "How much filth there is in the Church, even among those who, in the priesthood, should belong entirely to Him. How much pride, how much self-sufficiency," he said.

One of Pope John Paul's closest advisers, Cardinal Ratzinger grew in power over the years.

In 2002, he added an influential post when he became dean of the College of Cardinals which elects the next Pontiff. He gave a widely praised homily at Pope John Paul's funeral and will address the cardinals before they vote in conclave.

His prominent role since the Pope died has fuelled speculation that he could be a leading candidate for the papacy.

Leading theologian Hans Kueng, who was banned from teaching Catholic theology in 1979 after he rejected papal infallibility, has warned that Cardinal Ratzinger may be manipulating the conclave by pushing for Pope John Paul to be made a saint, raising the pressure for an equally conservative successor to be named.

If elected, he would be the oldest Pope on accession in more than a century.

Angelo Scola (Italian) born on November 7, 1941

Cardinal Angelo Scola says his favourite colour is grey but he is anything but a grey man.

The 63-year-old Cardinal of Venice likes poetry and books as well as the internet and the great outdoors.

"As a boy I once counted eight or nine shades of grey that an artist can paint on a landscape of a lake," he once told an interviewer.

Cardinal Scola, considered a prelate of towering intellect, ranks as an open-minded conservative and a good administrator, qualities that might help him win broad support within a conclave.

He himself dismissed speculation this year that he was a strong papal contender, saying the subject was "boring".

But he will need no reminding that three of his predecessors as Patriarch of Venice were elevated to the papacy in the 20th century - Pius X, John XXIII and John Paul I.

Cardinal Scola was born near the northern Italian city of Milan on November 7, 1941. He is a self-made man who has never tried to hide his simple roots.

"I am very proud to have come from a very poor family. My parents always lived in an apartment of about 35 square metres in the old courtyard of a former farm," he once said.

Cardinal Scola's father worked as a truck driver who would drive across the length of Italy to support his family.

"He gave me a taste for travel and a gusto for work... he worked himself to the bone so we could study," he said, referring to himself and his older brother.

Cardinal Scola's father was a working class Socialist who read the Socialist Party newspaper Avanti or the Communist Party paper l'Unità.

His mother Regina, as one newspaper put it, was the model of the simple faith and piety pervasive in the towns and farm areas of the foggy northern Italian plains.

He was ordained a priest in 1970 and became close to the "Communion and Liberation Movement", one of the Church movements that enjoyed support under John Paul and stresses that Catholics should influence politics.

As a young priest he spent much time working with university students, heading retreats and giving lectures.

His academic life began in the Swiss city of Fribourg, where he taught political philosophy and moral theology. In 1982 his teaching career moved him to the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. Pope John Paul named him bishop of the Tuscan city of Grosetto in 1991 and in 1995 he returned to the Lateran University as rector, one of Italy's most prestigious academic posts.

At the same time he headed the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for the Study of Marriage and the Family.

In his academic life Cardinal Scola has had good relations with both progressive theologians such as France's Henri de Lubac and conservatives such as Switzerland's Hans Urs von Balthasar.

But he is also believed to have helped draft recent encyclicals in which John Paul restated his strong defence of traditional Catholic teaching on moral issues.

In 2002, Pope John Paul named him patriarch of Venice and he became a cardinal a year later.

As patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Scola, who speaks Italian, English, French and German, has denounced racism in northern Italy, an area that is home to many African and Asian immigrants.

Angelo Sodano (Italian) born on November 23, 1927

As secretary of state, the Vatican's top diplomat, Cardinal Angelo Sodano ranked second only to the Pope in the Church hierarchy.

Cardinal Sodano, 77, made his mark as a diplomat in Chile, where he served as the Pope's representative for more than 10 years. The Pope brought Cardinal Sodano back to Rome in 1988.

Two years later, he replaced Cardinal Agostino Casaroli as secretary of state.

A theological conservative, Cardinal Sodano would be unlikely to change any key teachings on matters such as artificial birth control or married priests that John Paul upheld so staunchly.

As ambassador in Chile, Cardinal Sodano handled a delicate political situation during the rule of military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Appointed there by Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Sodano caught John Paul's eye because of his gift for soothing tensions within the Chilean church as it debated how to deal with Pinochet.

"He was consistent (as an ambassador) and that was noticed," one Vatican official said of Cardinal Sodano. "He doesn't get worked up about things. His attitude was, you do it, and that's your job."

Catholic progressives claim Cardinal Sodano's job in Chile was to impose the Vatican's will, especially through the appointment of a series of conservative bishops.

His critics have called him a dry bureaucrat with little sense of humour.

As the Pope grew older and more frail, it was clear that Cardinal Sodano was consolidating his power in the Vatican bureaucracy in order to have more influence in choosing his successor.

Cardinal Sodano's influence over the Pope was clear in the Pontiff's choice for new cardinals in the 2001 consistory. A number of new men were Vatican bureaucrats inside Cardinal Sodano's sphere of power.

Cardinal Sodano was born the second of six children into a farming family in Italy's northern Piedmont region. Ordained a priest in 1950, he taught theology at the local seminary before entering the Church's diplomatic service in 1961.

A mark against Cardinal Sodano as a possible successor to the Pope is that he has no experience running a diocese.

Dionigi Tettamanzi (Italian) born on March 14, 1934

Dionigi Tettamanzi, the 71-year-old cardinal-archbishop of Milan, is at the top of the list of Italian candidates to succeed Pope John Paul II.

An intellectual, former seminary rector and prolific writer who helped Pope John Paul draft some of his encyclicals, the "little Lombard" has a lot of friends and few enemies.

Born in Renate, near Milan, in 1934, he entered the seminary at the age of 11 and earned a reputation as a bookworm.

He was ordained in 1957 by the then-archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Montini, who went on to become Pope Paul VI. As a theological conservative 20 years later, he firmly backed Paul's controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which banned the use of artificial birth control.

Although a prolific writer on ecclesiastical matters, his Church career appeared on hold until the star of a close friend and admirer, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Re, began rising in the Vatican.

In 1989, he distanced himself from a petition by 63 theologians who had criticised Pope John Paul for what they called his "centralist" method of ruling.

A grateful Vatican took note and later that year the seminary rector was named archbishop of the city of Ancona, on Italy's Adriatic coast. Cardinal Tettamanzi was finally in the loop of power and moving up the ladder.

After less than two years in Ancona, he was called to Rome to be the secretary of the powerful Italian bishops conference.

He made headlines when he gave his blessing to a decision by the newspaper of Italy's former communist party to give out free copies of the Gospel of St John to its readers. fl

In 1995, his friend Cardinal Re put in another good word and he was named archbishop of Genoa, one of the largest cities in northern Italy. Three years later he was appointed cardinal.

In 1999 he again played his conservative card and distanced himself from a proposal by his predecessor in Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, for a Third Vatican Council. Liberals had cheered the proposal but the Vatican would have none of it.

It was at about that time that the star of Cardinal Martini - the liberals' dream candidate for Pope - began to wane and that of Cardinal Tettamanzi began to rise.

In Genoa, he stood out by deciding that pilgrims visiting the city for the 2000 Holy Year should stop not only at the city's great churches but also an old people's home to get a special indulgence for the jubilee millennium year.

He also defended the anti-globalisation protesters who besieged a Group of Eight summit in the city in 2001. "A single African child sick with AIDS counts more than the entire universe," he said at the time.

In 2002, Pope John Paul surprised many by accepting the resignation of Cardinal Martini and moving Cardinal Tettamanzi from Genoa to Milan, one of the world's largest archdioceses - with some five million faithful and 1,000 parishes.

Although both Cardinal Tettamanzi and Cardinal Martini are under 80 and will enter the conclave to elect the next Pope, if the cardinals choose to elect an Italian, the punters who want the papacy back in Italian hands are going long on the short Lombard.

Unusual for a cardinal, he is not considered a linguist and has not travelled extensively outside of Italy.

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