Philippines Catholics hope, pray for Asia's first pope
By Rosemarie Francisco and Manuel Mogato
MANILA (Reuters) - With attention turning from Europe to the "new" world, worshippers in the Philippines prayed quietly and took to social media on Tuesday in the hope their cardinal might be chosen as the next leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
Many Catholics in the Philippines, the largest Christian community in Asia, were shocked by Pope Benedict's resignation, including their charismatic leader, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
"Pope Benedict XVI's renunciation of the ministry as Bishop of Rome on February 11, 2013 came as a surprise," Tagle said in a statement.
"The announcement also brought sadness to us. We felt like children clinging to a father who bids them farewell," he said, praising Benedict's "humility, honesty, courage and sincerity".
Stunning as it was, Benedict's resignation has thrown the papal spotlight outside the Church's European heartland, now home to only 25 percent of the Catholic population.
The post once reserved for Italians is now open for all, although about half the cardinals who will vote for the next pope after Benedict's reign ends on February 28 are from Europe.
Latin America represents the largest single bloc in the Church with 42 percent of Catholics, putting Latin Americans and African cardinals among the front-runners to succeed 85-year-old Pope Benedict.
Tagle's close alignment to Pope Benedict, an uncompromising conservative on social and theological issues, could work in his favor, with the Philippines a bulwark of Catholicism in a mainly Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist region. Continued...