As 115 cardinal-electors gather in Rome to choose who will lead the world's 1.18 billion Catholics, chatter among Long Island's 1.7 million faithful Saturday mirrored some of the ecclesiastical questions the next pope must answer.
How best to reach wayward Catholics? Should the church ease, maintain or harden its stances on hot-button social issues including abortion, birth control and gay rights? What role should women play in church life? Should priests be allowed to marry?
"It's always that traditional Catholic versus that more progressive kind of changing with the times a little bit," Dianne Scope of Rockville Centre said outside the St. Agnes Cathedral, where her father is a deacon.
Whoever the cardinals choose should take the church in a new direction, say 55 percent of U.S. Catholics, while 38 percent favor the status quo, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Scope, a 35-year-old fitness director, reflects that majority wanting a change: She'd like to see a more progressive pontiff, particularly on social issues.
Carol Meehan, 54, a teacher's assistant also from Rockville Centre, is like the 38 percent: She believes not that the church needs change but a forceful advocate of its views, such as its position against abortion.
"I think we have to be stronger in what we always taught. The church needs to get the message out, even stronger," Meehan said. "We need to stand firm on our beliefs."
Said Teresa Raftery, a sister at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church of Glen Cove and a nun for more than five decades: "The challenge is unity and diversity, to have one church in a very diverse world."
And youth couldn't hurt, said X-ray technician Ed Deptulski of East Rockaway.
Deptulski, one of more than a dozen Catholics interviewed Saturday, mentioned 63-year-old Timothy Dolan of New York as a good choice to succeed 85-year-old former Pope Benedict XVI, who quit last month, citing his age and infirmity.
"The last pope, as much as he was a good man, he's older and it was hard to fill the shadow of John Paul II, but I think now you need a new fresh spirit," said Deptulski, 47. "You need to have the strength and youth and not so conservative, maybe."
Perhaps, Deptulski said, the next pontiff should consider convening a new Vatican council -- like Vatican II, the one four decades ago that updated the liturgy, expanded the role of lay Catholics and thawed relations with other religions.
Of the pope selection, Rockville Centre's Delia Garrity, 62, a retired assistant superintendent and math teacher, said she's opting to "leave it in God's hands."
"I really put all of my trust and faith in God, specifically the Holy Spirit. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will inspire the cardinals to select the perfect person," she said, emerging from St. Agnes' morning Mass.
Laurieann DeFilippo, 42, of Glen Cove is anxious for the cardinal-electors to make a papal choice.
"I want one soon," DeFilippo said as she set up tables for an early St. Patrick's Day dinner last night, coincidentally, at St. Patrick's Church. "I feel like I'm without a leader."