India, Asia's unlikely powerbroker in papal vote
Panaji: India's Catholics may account for less than two percent of the country's population but they will be Asia's most powerful voice in the election to choose a new pope. Five of the nine Asian cardinals who have the right to vote at the upcoming papal enclave hail from India, an overwhelmingly Hindu nation where Catholics are also outnumbered by Muslims and Sikhs.
Only Italy, the United States and Germany will be represented by more cardinal electors when they meet in Vatican City. But with around 17 million practicising Catholics, India is home to the Church's second largest community in Asia after the Philippines.
Like elsewhere on the continent, Indian Catholics would love to see an Asian take over from Benedict XVI, with Luis Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, the name most often mentioned by Vatican observers. Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Mumbai who is one of the five Indian cardinals, has expressed doubt that an Asian will be elected pope for the first time and insists that a candidate's birthplace should not be a major factor.
"For me it's not important what continent he comes from," he told the Catholic News Service. "We want a person who is most suitable for this assignment and most suitable for the very great responsibility, the one to whom the Holy Spirit guides us."