The surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has led to media speculation that the next pope might hail from outside of Europe. But parishioners in Los Angeles said that the pope's country of origin doesn't matter to them: Speaking after President's Day-weekend masses, they expressed trust that the 117 cardinals voting on the next pope will make a universally acceptable choice.
"The new pope can be from underground as long as he's a good person," Karen Pinson said outside of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church. The parish's members are mainly African-American.
Some laity specifically called for a younger, more liberal and more charismatic leader than the retiring Pope Benedict. But many parishioners said the heavy thinking should be left to the electors.
"Where he comes from doesn't matter if the cardinals work with the Holy Spirit to figure out someone for the whole world, for the whole whole church," said Andre Golebiowski, who was attending the Polish-dominated Our Lady of the Bright Mount Catholic Church.
At St. Cecilia Parish, a couple of parishioners said in Spanish that they hadn't researched any of the names being mentioned as possible successors because the pope didn't affect their lives.
"Here in America, the Catholics watching closely are fewer and fewer. They're Christian. They're caring. They're moral. But they have minds and wills of their own, and no conclave will change that."
In a Pew survey last August, 82 percent of American Catholics said they were satisfied with their priests, while just 74 percent listed satisfaction with the pope. It's unclear whether the numbers would change if the pope came from outside of Europe. Experts have offered a range of predictions about the chances of a pope from a developing country in Asia, Africa or Latin America. Still, one parishioner voiced concern about all of that discussion.
"If they elect a black pope, a lot of people from America will leave," Charlene Richard said. "There's still a lot of small-minded people."
On Twitter, many of the comments were less serious.
Chuck Ryor, the lead pastor at Prism Church in Pasadena, posted the following last Saturday:
Archbishop of NY Timothy Dolan is @ 63-years-old considered "too young" to be the next Pope. This is encouraging to those of us in mid-life.— Chuck Ryor (@ChuckRyor) February 16, 2013
This story is one in an occasional series of reports by students taking part in a class of the USC Annenberg Knight Program on Media and Religion, headed by Diane Winston. Thanks to a grant from the Luce Foundation, Annenberg students have covered global religion, culture and politics for the past four years. This year's journalism class is headed to Ireland and Northern Ireland for 10 days in March and, in preparation, its students are covering Los Angeles' Catholic communities. The nine students are a mix of undergraduates, second year grad students and mid-career professionals.