April 3: Cardinal Ivan Dias has the stature but reports of the possibility of his being elected the next Pope were today dismissed as 'speculative' by a spokesman.
The president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha, Dolphy D'Souza, said Dias, the archbishop of Mumbai, was a front-ranking cardinal.
Dias, who will attend Pope John Paul's funeral and vote to elect the successor along with two other Indian cardinals, will leave for the Vatican as soon as the schedule is set.
Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo left hometown Ranchi today for Delhi en route to the Vatican. The third cardinal, Varkey Vithayathil, from Kerala, will be on his way tomorrow.
They will be among some 117 cardinals who will gather at the Vatican in a secret session to choose the new Pope, who has to be elected with a two-thirds majority plus one.
Before leaving, Toppo told The Telegraph: 'I am a bit tense. The holy Pope had made me cardinal less than two years ago. Now I have been called upon to elect his successor. This is a responsibility a cardinal is expected to perform once in a lifetime.'
The cardinal was informed of the Pope's death around 2 am by the Vatican ambassador to India, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana.
Vithayathil, 78, who is the seniormost prelate in Kerala and knows several European languages like Dias, told reporters that the chances of an Indian or an Asian being elected Pope were as good as those of any other nationality.
He discounted the possibility of a US prelate being elevated to the post because that would be a rare concentration of power in the developed world.
Vithayathil is known to be as much of a traditionalist as the late Pope who had appointed him. It is a quality he shares with the younger Dias, who is 69 and has been mentioned among 13 candidates believed to be frontrunners for the post.
Admitting he was a little nervous, Toppo said he was not well-versed in the cluster of rituals which the college of cardinals is expected to carry out to elect the new Pope.
'Almost all the cardinals who took part in the conclave in 1978 to elect Pope John Paul are either no more or are over 80 and, so, do not have voting rights. After the burial of Pope John Paul, all 117 cardinals would be briefed before the conclave begins,' he said.
Toppo has leafed through the Vatican constitution to help him come to a decision.
The Indian government is likely to be represented at the funeral by a team of ministers and officials led by one of the two ministers of state in the external affairs ministry, E. Ahmed and Rao Inderjit Singh.
Samarendra Kundu, minister of state for external affairs, had led the delegation to the funeral of Pope John Paul I almost 27 years ago.