The cardinals who could well be voting for the next pope now number 121 -- 40 per cent of them appointed by Benedict XVI -- following the consistory this morning in Rome, a solemn and colourful occasion in which the new members of the College promise to defend the Church even at the cost of martyrdom (hence the scarlet, colour of blood).
Some 24 new cardinals, 20 of whom are under 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave, have expanded the College in total to 203, 121 of whom are electors. See Reuters list of the new cardinals and their nationalities here.
As commentators have been pointing out, the College now has a more distinctly Italian -- and European - -feel. The Europeans now have a slight majority (62 out of 121) in the College.
One should be wary of reading too much into this; the fact that Benedict XVI has (to some extent) re-Italianised the Curia and re-Europeanised the College after an internationalisation of both under John Paul II, may in part simply reflect the available pool of talent.
But the European focus of Benedict XVI's pontificate -- his attempt to combat the "dictatorship of relativism" and to win back Europe's soul -- is beyond dispute. Of his 18 international trips, 12 have been to European nations. While the US, Latin America, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East all have their particular needs and challenges, some of these are beyond the scope of popes to do much about -- whereas Europe, Benedict XVI is convinced, can be won back.
And while the Catholic Church, demographically, looks less European every day, Europe's place in the world -- and the Church's in Europe -- is unique. As Jean-Marie Guenois of Le Figaro points out, "Benedict has understood that while the global epicenter of Catholicism shifts every day to the southern hemisphere, that vast region can never replace the weight of history and culture."
Hence the recently-founded Agency for the New Evangelization which was founded with Europe -- and especially Spain -- in mind.
It's hard not to believe that these priorities are also being laid down for his successor. The next pope will want to see through this project, building on Benedict XVI's project of equipping the Church to confront the new rationalism which is seeking to constrict and in some cases to banish Catholicism from the public sphere.
That's why -- assuming the College agrees with this strategy -- the next Pope is likely to be a European. He could be an Italian, but it is unlikely he'll be a curial cardinal -- which makes him more likely to be from outside Italy.
Benedict XVI's stamina is extraordinary; for his age, he is remarkable. But he is tired, and the grace of office does not defeat the march of time. The word in Rome is that there is a strong likelihood that this consistory has created the College that will elect the Pope's successor.
And word is, they'll be looking to another European.