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Italians, Americans cheer Cardinal Timothy Dolan in Rome

U.S. Cardinal and head of New York archdiocese,

U.S. Cardinal and head of New York archdiocese, Timothy Michael Dolan, waves after leading a mass at the Nostra Signora di Guadalupe church in Rome. (March 10, 2013) Credit: Getty Images/AFP

VATICAN CITY -- Crowds of Italians and Americans shouted "Habemus Papam" -- "We have a pope" -- after Cardinal Timothy Dolan finished celebrating Mass on Sunday, pushing their idea that the archbishop of New York might make it to St. Peter's throne.

Dolan, who said the Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in northern Rome, is among those cited as favorites to replace Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

"I feel like the prodigal son," Dolan said at the packed Mass. "Thank you for the warm welcome."

Some who attended a Mass celebrated by Dolan in Rome in 2012 said they were left with a lasting impression that hasn't changed.

"I think he would make a great pope," said Leonardo Petracca, 29, who attended Sunday's Mass and Dolan's 2012 Mass. "He is very charismatic and very close to the people, especially the simple people of this parish."

Despite two Italian candidates among the contenders -- Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, and Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's culture minister since 2007 -- Italian parishioners at Dolan's Mass cheered for the American.

"I just prefer this one, I don't know why, but I do," said Alessandra Vicario. "He has a good face, and people want him for pope."

Vicario and other Italians said they prefer a pope who is far from the day-to-day business of the Roman Curia, the governing body of the Catholic Church, which has been embroiled in scandal. Benedict's butler was convicted of theft by a Vatican court last year for leaking confidential letters alleging bribery, money laundering and corruption within the Vatican.

"Cardinal Dolan is a great communicator and a very interesting figure," said Andrea Tornielli, Vatican reporter for the Italian daily La Stampa.

The College of Cardinals has acknowledged the need to elect a pope who can be charismatic with a firm hand.

Americans who came to see Dolan in Rome cited his personality as working in his favor.

University of Notre Dame theology student Aaron Colton, who traveled with his family from Cleveland, wedged between journalists and cameras to hear Dolan speak just before Sunday's Mass.

"My impressions weren't wrong when I first heard him give a speech in Notre Dame," Colton said. "He is just so warm and kind and charismatic."

While Dolan's charm makes him a favorite among some Catholics, Vatican observers say personality alone is not enough to swing an election.

"The believers aren't going to vote," Tornielli said of Dolan's fans.

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