A CARDINAL now being spoken of as a possible successor to Pope Benedict XVI has strong Irish connections.
The resignation of Pope Benedict came as a complete shock to the 1.2bn Catholics around the world and attention has already turned to who will replace him.
Among the names being spoken of as the next pontiff are Timothy Dolan, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York.
His great-great-grandfather came from Cavan and the Cardinal talked about his strong connections to Ireland when in Dublin recently to attend the International Eucharistic Congress saying "to come back is always a coming home in a way".
His links to Ireland also extended to four Sisters of Mercy from Drogheda, who taught at the infant school he attended in Ballwin, Missouri.
"Here we were in a little village about 45 minutes outside of St Louis, Missouri, and here we had these four Irish women who told us about the world.
"And they had a profound impact on me," he said.
Cardinal Dolan (62) still keeps in touch with his second grade teacher Sr Mary Bosco, who has since retired to Ireland and lives in a convent in the midlands.
As Archbishop of New York, he was a member of the apostolic visitation to Ireland announced by Pope Benedict in March 2010 in response to the Ryan and Murphy reports on clerical sexual abuse.
The same year he was elected president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Two years later Pope Benedict elevated him to the position of Cardinal.
Seen as a conservative on key issues, Cardinal Dolan has criticised US president Barak Obama for taking a position on abortion that was "very much at odds with the Church".
He supports clerical celibacy and the church's opposition to gay marriage.
Meanwhile, while Cardinal Sean Brady will play a part in choosing the next Pope, he does not see himself as a possible successor to Pope Benedict
When asked about the possibility of becoming the next leader of the Catholic Church, the 73-year-old Primate said: "I don't think that eventuality is likely to arise."
The Archbishop of Armagh will also play a part in electing the next pontiff and said he would use the time before the election to reflect on how he might vote before travelling to Rome next month for the conclave of cardinals.
He will be part of a group of cardinals under the age of 80 who will have a vote at the conclave in March.
Cardinal Brady has said he hopes the next Pope will continue to place emphasis on ecumenism and dialogue with other world religions and be a leader who would continue to "denounce the scandal of war and poverty in the world".
Whichever Pope is elected, Irish bishops are likely to be one of the first groups of bishops to meet the new pontiff.
The Irish bishops are due in Rome for their "ad limina" visit, which takes place every five years, later this year.
See pages 15 & 16