Often cast as the social conscience of the church, Ghana's Cardinal Peter Turkson is viewed by many as the top African contender for pope.
The 64-year-old head of the Vatican's peace and justice office was widely credited with helping to avert violence following contested Ghanaian elections.
He has aggressively fought African poverty, while disappointing many by hewing to the church's conservative line on condom use amid Africa's AIDS epidemic.
Turkson's reputation as a man of peace took a hit recently when he showed a virulently anti-Islamic video, a move now seen as hurting his papal prospects. Observers say those prospects sank further when he broke a taboo against public jockeying for the papacy - telling The Associated Press the day after Benedict XVI's resignation announcement that he's up for the job "if it's the will of God".
Speculation about the possibility of a pope from the developing world has swirled for years as the church's growth has moved south.
In Africa, between 1978 and 2007, the number of Catholics grew from 55 million to 146 million.
Latin America counts 40 per cent of the world's Catholics. In contrast, Catholic communities in Europe are in decline.
In 2009, Benedict called Africa "an immense spiritual lung" for humanity and he has shown a special regard for the continent, naming a higher percentage of Africans as cardinals than his predecessors.
He went to Cameroon and Angola in 2009 and to Benin in 2011 at age 84. Benedict showed his high esteem for Turkson by naming him to various positions of authority.
Turkson comes from humble beginnings as the child of a carpenter and vegetable seller from the mining town of Wassa Nsuta in western Ghana.
He rose quickly in the Catholic Church. After attending St Peter's Regional Seminary in Ghana, he went on to earn two master's degrees in theology and divinity in 1974 at St Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in New York.
Pope John Paul II named Turkson Archbishop of Cape Coast in 1992 and made him cardinal in 2003.
He is known by friends and colleagues in Ghana as an intellectual and a down-to-earth "humble servant of God" who prays several hours a day, and in his free time enjoys jogging, playing guitar and singing.
He speaks English, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew and Greek.
Turkson is "quite intellectual, well-rounded, a fine priest," said the current Archbishop of Cape Coast, Mattias Kobena Nketsiah, who has known Turkson for more than 30 years.
Another Ghanaian prelate also spoke of Turkson's humble dedication.
"I was struck by the aura of holiness around him," said Emmanuel Abbey-Quaye, a senior figure in the Ghana Catholic Bishop's Conference who was ordained by Turkson in 2005.
"He would spend many hours praying every night and morning."
Turkson's statements the day after Benedict's resignation announcement - in which he said it's time for a developing world pope - were also seen as a miscue.
At the Vatican there's an adage: "He who enters the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal."
A meeting of cardinals, called a conclave, usually begins with a special morning Mass in St Peter's Basilica.
In the afternoon, they walk in a procession to the Sistine Chapel - known for its famous ceiling painting by Renaissance artist Michelangelo - to begin the actual voting process.
Ballots are passed out, and cardinals write in a candidate's name and fold it up, then one by one, in order of seniority, they approach an altar and ceremoniously place their ballots into a chalice.
Voting is secret, but ballots are counted in the open. A cardinal needs a vote of two-thirds to ascend to the papacy. If there is no winner, the vote is repeated one time on the first day.
After each vote, the ballots land in the fireplace. If no one has won, a chemical is added to make the smoke black. This lets people waiting in St Peter's Square below know that there is no new pope yet.
If there is a winner, no chemical is added, and the smoke remains white, telling the world that the conclave has agreed on a new pontiff.