With the resignation of Pope Benedict coming into effect on Feb 28th, there are only 20 days for the eligible cardinals with voting rights to elect a new pope.

There is a possible Irish connection to the next pope and if you didn't go to the Eucharistic Congress last summer you may have missed out on meeting him. The Papal Legate, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, from Canada is seen as a very strong front runner. Conservative, he is experienced in dealing with child abuse and the struggle with more liberal elements pushing for a freeing up of Catholic moral teaching.

New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan is worth a punt if the College of Cardinals choose to opt for a native English speaker. Having spent years running the North American College in Rome, Dolan is fluent in Italian and is well-known in Vatican circles. He was part of Pope Benedict's investigation into the Church in Ireland in the wake of the clerical abuse scandals. Both friends and foes describe him as "pugnaciously orthodox." He is media savvy, hosting a regular radio programme and has sparred with the New York Times accusing the paper of bias against the Catholic Church.
His brash American demeanour will count against him, particularly among the Italian cardinals. He also would signal a taking of sides in the very divided American church.

Dolan, as comfortable drinking beer at a barbecue as he is in the corridors of power, may be just too rooted for the old guard in the Roman Curia.

Read more: Could Cardinal Timothy Dolan from New York be the first American pope?

Bookmaker Paddy Power has put him on 25/1.

Of course many look to the vibrant church of the southern hemisphere for the next Pope and Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana who was also at the Congress in Dublin is a major contender. However, Pope John Paul was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, and although he was followed by a German, the odds of the cardinals breaking with tradition for a third time of appointing Italians and then a non-European seem high. Yet a black pope would be a wonderful sign of change but unlikely to mean any change in teaching, but maybe more colourful liturgies for a start.

If the consistory of cardinals do decide on a Pope from the developing world, Cardinal Peter Turkson, Archbishop emeritus of Ghana and president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, will surely be their go to man.

He was President of the Ghana Catholic Bishops' Conference (1997-2005) and member of the Pontifical Commission for Methodist-Catholic Dialogue, Chancellor of the Catholic University College of Ghana and treasurer of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar. Cardinal Turkson was created and proclaimed Cardinal by John Paul II in 2003.

Staying with the developing world, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga represents Latin America's next best chance at a Pope. The young and well versed Honduran who was ordained for the Salesians in 1970 holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, and a diploma in clinical psychology and psychotherapy from Leopold Franz University, Innsbruck.
If the consistory of cardinals decides not to break with tradition and elect a European Pope to succeed the German Ratzinger, the likelihood is that he will be Italian. Among the Italians, Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan is a strong contender having recently been moved from Venice to Milan, the most important archdiocese in Italy after Rome.

Read more: St. Malachy predicted Pope Benedict’s successor will be last pope

Prior to his appointments in Venice and Milan, the Holy Father appointed him Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University and President of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in 1995. He was also Relator General of the Synod of Bishops in 2005.

The media savvy Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, is another Italian hotly tipped as a possible successor to the throne of St Peter. He was born in Merate, Italy and ordained a priest of the archdiocese of Milan in 1966 following studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University and at the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

He has written many books, articles for L'Osservatore Romano and L'Avvenire and even hosts his own television show Frontiers of the Spirit. He was created and proclaimed Cardinal by Benedict XVI in 2010.

Another European possible is the Czech born Dominican Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. He will be remembered for preaching the Lenten spiritual exercises for the Pope and the Roman Curia in 1996. Cardinal Schönborn has also been the author of many publications and is favourable with Benedict for his work with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He taught chemistry, physics and music at various Salesian colleges in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and was professor of moral theology and ecclesiology at the Salesian Theological Institute, Guatemala, and is currently President of the Episcopal Conference of Honduras and Caritas International.

Whoever takes over, they will need to present to the world, to paraphrase President Obama, an open hand and not  a fist, in other words, they need to be signs of compassion in a world that expects them to follow in the footsteps of the carpenter from Nazareth.

Garry O'Sullivan is Editor in Chief of The Irish Catholic newspaper - www.irishcatholic.ie