CNN.com users: New challenges await the next pope
St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
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(CNN) -- When John Paul II emerged as the new pope at the 1978 conclave, the Soviet Union held a grip on Eastern Europe, AIDS was not yet discovered, and the imposing towers of World Trade Center adorned New York City's skyline.
After more than a quarter-century, the world has changed in dramatic ways, creating a new set of challenges for next leader of the world's more than 1 billion Roman Catholics.
As the cardinals gathered for the conclave to select the next pope, CNN.com asked its users to tell us what they considered to be the modern-day issues that will create the challenges and opportunities for the next papacy. The thousands of responses received from countries the world over offer a glimpse at the magnitude of the task that awaits the man who will succeed one of the most popular and most traveled popes in history.
"The next pope should follow the same steps that made John Paul II known around the world," said Antonio Carlos de Noronha Miranda, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the country with the most Catholics in the world. "In other words, the next pope must have charisma so that the Vatican's voice is able to reach all kinds of leadership and people throughout the world." More feedback from South America
Many wrote about their views that the church needs to review its stands on issues such as divorce, birth control, homosexuality and allowing priests to marry and for the ordination of women into the priesthood. Others wrote with equal conviction that the next pope should adhere to the traditional values espoused by his predecessor.
"The new pope will have to face the challenge of lifting the church into the third millennium, and doing necessary reforms," wrote Sebastian Hansen, of Denmark. More feedback from Europe
"The most important issue is the decline in priests and other religious (people). I hope a new pope would consider allowing married priests," wrote Claire Turner, from Sydney, Australia. "There used to be married priests in the first centuries of the church. Priests should be given a choice. This would definitely increase numbers. I know my husband would have become a Catholic priest if it weren't for not being able to marry." More feedback from Australia
The relationship with Islam and other religions, the rise of secularism, terrorism, advances in genetic engineering, the child abuse scandals that have plagued the church, the devastation of AIDS in Africa, ongoing wars and entrenched racism also were common issues raised in the responses.
"One issue that the new pope should face is the problem on terrorism and the reasons for its being," said Fernando Flores of the Philippines. "I hope that the new pope may cause its downfall the way Pope John Paul II did with communism -- in a way that speaks with love, understanding and non-violence." More feedback from Asia
Another common theme was the problem of poverty and addressing the economic divide between the developed world and the third world. This issue could be a critical one for the next pope, as church attendance has dropped off in the United States and Europe in recent decades and the Catholic Church has seen most of its recent growth come in Africa and Latin America.
"The next pope's biggest problem, I think, is the secularization of the developed world. Europeans are turning away from religion altogether. A new chapter will begin in the religious world with the election of a new pope," wrote Aaron Kinney, from Los Angeles, California. "Will he bring Europe back to religion or will Europe continue to snub the church?" More feedback from North America
Yet the next pope will need to balance the desire on the part of many Catholics in Europe and the United States for reform, with the traditional values of many churchgoers in Africa and Latin America.
Sentiments voiced by many who sent in e-mail from Latin America and Africa indicated a preference for a continuation of the adherence to Catholic doctrine that John Paul II carried out.
"The next pope could also follow on those footsteps a make a stronger effort and investment (in) the third world countries," said Ike Herbst, who wrote in from Swaziland. More feedback from Africa