The bookmakers in Europe already have their favorites, but the world won't know who will succeed Pope Benedict XVI until that puff of white smoke is sent up the chimney of the conclave room next month.
The College of Cardinals has no shortage of factors to consider in picking the next pope -- from age to geography -- and no dearth of potential candidates.
Here are some of the princes of the church whose names have emerged from Vatican watchers since Monday's surprise abdication announcement:
Cardinal Marc Ouellet: Former archbishop of Quebec, he heads the Congregation of Bishops, a power center. Ouellet, 68, speaks six languages, spent a decade as a missionary in Colombia and has strong ties to Latin and South America. He's considered conservative and made headlines in 2010 when he said abortion was a "moral crime," even in cases of rape. In a 2011 interview, he laughed off the idea of becoming pontiff, saying the workload and responsibility "would be a nightmare."
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri: Born in Argentina to Italian parents, Sandri was No. 2 in the Vatican Secretary of State's office under Pope John Paul II and now serves as prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. A longtime Vatican diplomat, Sandri, 69, is well-respected but seen by some as more of a top-notch administrator than a theological leader.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco: The archbishop of Genoa is well-connected, having served twice as the president of the Italian bishop's conference. A baker's son who says he knew he wanted to be a priest in elementary school, Bagnasco, 70, is considered a conservative force in the church. He was the target of death threats in 2007 after comments opposing same-sex unions and in 2011 he launched a thinly veiled attack on scandal-ridden Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other politicians, referring to them as "sad and hollow."
Cardinal Odilo Scherer: Born in Brazil to parents of German extraction, Scherer's big advantage is geography; he hails from the region that is home to half the world's Catholics. Considered a moderate, the 63-year-old serves as the archbishop of Sao Paulo and has spots in two key Vatican groups, the Congregation for the Clergy and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan: The head of the archdiocese of New York is one of the Vatican's most popular figures -- charismatic, camera-ready and conservative. As head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he hasn't shied from away from political fights, taking on the Obama administration over contraception. But Dolan, 63, has only been a cardinal for a year.