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If Pope Francis is truly stepping down in 2021 from his position, who will take over the papacy? Here's the list of the top pope candidates.

Pope Francis’s successor: Check out this list of potential future popes

When Pope Benedict XVI retired in 2013, it was a historic move in the history of the Vatican. His successor, Pope Francis, has mentioned numerous times how he finds it honorable Pope Benedict XVI stepped down due to his age. Now, many are wondering if Pope Francis is thinking the same idea, and joining the list of popes to resign from the position. 

During an interview with a Mexican TV station in 2014, Pope Francis said he was looking into having a short papacy of only five years. Many believe this means come January 1st, 2021, Pope Francis will step down from his position. However, over his tenure, Pope Francis has added fifty-one cardinal electors. Does this list of new cardinal electors include the next pope? 

If Pope Francis is truly stepping down in 2021 from his position, who will take over the papacy? Here's the list of the top pope candidates.

How the Pope election process works

For those unfamiliar with how Catholics get their new leader, the Pope is decided by a group of 128 cardinals. Appointed by popes in the past, this list of cardinals are locked in a room in the Sistine Chapel. Until they decide on a new pope, none of the cardinals are allowed to leave the room. 

For a representative to be elected Pope, they must receive two-thirds of the vote. There’s also a bunch of other strange rules associated with the electoral process. For example, the designated cardinal will count all the folded votes. If the number of votes doesn’t match the number of electors, all the ballots are burned and everyone has to vote again. 

If Pope Francis is truly stepping down in 2021 from his position, who will take over the papacy? Here's the list of the top pope candidates.

The newest cardinal electors

On November 28th, Pope Francis appointed new cardinals who will end up picking his successor. Cardinals bishops are the second-highest ranking officials within the Catholic church, and make up the 128 electors. For a cardinal to be allowed to vote, they have to be under eighty years of age. Archbishops are promoted to cardinals by the Pope at a special ceremony called a consistory.

Many of the cardinals Pope Francis recently appointed are representing regions who never had a cardinal representative before on the electoral list. Rwanda saw its first cardinal with the appointment of Antoine Kambanda. Rural Central Philippines also saw Cardinal Bishop Jose F. Advincula appointed to the cardinal list by Pope Francis.

These new additions are part of Pope Francis’s mission to make sure all people worldwide feel welcomed as part of the Catholic church. But these new cardinal appointments also imply Francis is trying to protect the work he’s done during his papacy.

If Pope Francis is truly stepping down in 2021 from his position, who will take over the papacy? Here's the list of the top pope candidates.

Giving poverned Catholics a voice

Only forty-one percent of cardinals in the College of Cardinals are from Europe now, the lowest percentage in modern Vatican history. Many of the cardinals appointed in the November 28th consistory come from areas struggling with severe poverty. Myanmar, Haiti, and the Philippines, in particular, are struggling with poverty. 

These counties also rarely, if ever, see their archbishops appointed as cardinals. Seeing the Pope not only acknowledge the Catholic community in these countries but add their archbishops to the list of voting cardinals is a big deal. 

Pope Francis has spent his papacy trying to build bridges with those on the outskirts of the Catholic community. These new appointments prove Francis is trying to not only keep these bridges alive, but have a new pope step up to keep building bridges with those on the outside of the Catholic community. 

If Pope Francis is truly stepping down in 2021 from his position, who will take over the papacy? Here's the list of the top pope candidates.

Who will be the next Pope?

While there is no official shortlist of who cardinals will vote as the next Pope, many have a basic list of the top contenders. The most commonly named candidate is Cardinal Sarah, arguably the most prominent cardinal from Africa. Many believe he will be the one cardinals will nominate to the Chair of St. Peter when Pope Francis steps down.

Other names mentioned are Boston-based Archbishop Sean O’Malley, who was said to be in the running when the cardinals elected Pope Francis back in 2013. As usual, many Italian candidates are in the running, including ex-Cardinal Angelo Scola & Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. 

Unlike normal political elections, candidates for the papacy don’t campaign. It’s up to the cardinals to decide who will become the next Pope. All we can do is look at the list and guess who will rise to the title of Pope. 

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