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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April 2005, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Profile: Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga
By Claire Marshall
BBC News

At 62 years old, the Honduran cardinal, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, is a relatively youthful candidate for the papacy.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga
Cardinal Rodriguez is said to have progressive inclinations

However, he has more than 26 years experience as a bishop.

Like the travelling Pope, John Paul II, Cardinal Maradiaga is an accomplished linguist, speaking seven languages.

He also has a doctorate in theology and a diploma in psychology, is an accomplished pianist and can even fly a plane.

In his native Honduras, the cardinal helped to mediate between the country's military government and the more liberal wing of the church.

He led a commission in 1997 which helped to purge the military police force in preparation for its return to civilian control.

Cardinal Maradiaga has also played a prominent role in regional Church affairs, as a leader of the Latin American Episcopal conference.

"You could say that he revived the Bishop's conference which had been frozen," said Elio Masferrer, president of the Latin American Association for the Study of Religions.

Debt relief campaigner

Cardinal Maradiaga is generally considered to be on the church's moderate-to-progressive wing. He speaks out strongly on social issues.

In 1999, he joined rock star Bono, from U2, to present a petition to a G8 summit with 17 million signatures demanding debt relief for the world's poorest nations.

In his words, poverty and social injustice are the real weapons of mass destruction of the 21st Century.

Latin American focus

In the past, the Honduran Cardinal has laughed when asked about his prospects of becoming the next pope.

However Elio Masferrer believes Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga stands a chance - although he acknowledges that the person most likely to become the next pontiff is someone we have not heard about in the media.

The cardinal also has Italian roots so he could receive the votes of the Italian block which is the strongest in the conclave even though he is not actually from Italy.

Cardinal Maradiaga himself did comment that perhaps a Pope from Latin America would be a great impulse for overcoming the north-south divide.

He regards the continent as the centre of a renaissance in the Catholic faith.

"The church has different places to evangelise and... in Latin America there is a renewal of the faith, there is a lot of hope," he once said.

He has also said he regards Europe as a major challenge for the papacy, because its secularised society has lost sight of the "supernatural" and transcendent aspects of the human being.

He supports debt relief for poorer countries

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