Countering much speculation that next Pope will be chosen based on geographic concerns, three American cardinals say the best candidate to succeed Benedict XVI is a man of holiness who can communicate the Gospel.

"Our people back home and throughout the world are all praying for this event, that we will be guided to be able to choose the very best person to lead the Church," Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has said that he and his fellow cardinals aim to choose the man who is "best suited" for the papacy and not base their decision on a candidate's age or national origin.

He said the cardinals' first concern is "that the faith be strengthened and passed on" and that Catholics "be cared for" no matter where they are in the world.

Cardinal O'Malley, Cardinal George and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston spoke about the upcoming conclave at a Feb. 28 press conference at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. The press conference came after Pope Benedict's departure from the Vatican for Castel Gandolfo, but before his resignation took effect at 8 p.m. Rome time.

Cardinal George was in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, but the other two cardinals have never been in a papal conclave. Only 117 cardinals are eligible to vote in the 2013 conclave, and two have said they will miss the conclave due to health reasons.

Cardinal O'Malley was not sure he could identify a single "top priority" for selecting the next pontiff.

"Certainly there are some wonderful candidates there, and we all recognize their talent and their goodness and their competence," he said.

"Certainly our people want a holy man to be the Pope. We've been very blessed in the last century to have extraordinarily learned and holy men as Pope. Many have been beatified or canonized."

He said the next Pope must be "a man of deep faith" with an ability to communicate that faith.

The Boston cardinal said Catholics are "anxious to have someone who can touch the hearts, particularly of our young people." The next Pope must carry on the "new evangelization" and inspire those who have left Catholic practice to return to their faith.

Cardinal DiNardo said Catholics want someone who can fill the role of the Apostle Peter and fulfill Jesus' command "feed my sheep."

A shepherd of the Church must give "good teaching" and "encouragement" while serving as "a principle of unity," he said.

Cardinal George said he imagines each cardinal has a mental list of primary candidates and secondary candidates that shapes their "more intimate" conversations with each other.

He said their questions for each other might include what kind of person a candidate is and how he would react to a certain situation.

He said the Gospel is from God and so there will "always be those areas in which society and the Church don't meet."

"A good pastor will mediate those (differences) as best he can without betraying the faith or his people, in such a way that the Church remains an active agent for transformation of the world."

Cardinal George said the cardinal electors have to be "well informed." He is reading short clips on possible candidates and their descriptions in the Pontifical Yearbook. He is also searching out the opinions of those who know them.

Cardinal O'Malley said he is using the internet "a lot."

Cardinal DiNardo too will be reading about the possible papal candidates and talking with other cardinals. He said he will also reflect on the nature of the See of Peter and its place in the life of the Church.

"This is my first conclave, so I also have to admit I'm going to learn what exactly is it we have to do," he said. "There are all kinds of formalities. Some of those you have to study and learn about, some you find out about from some of the other cardinals."

All three stressed the importance of prayer in their decision.

Cardinal DiNardo said he intends to "intensify" his prayers about the papal election.

"That became very obvious to me this morning when the Holy Father said he promised his obedience to whoever the successor of Peter is," he said. "That requires a great deal of prayer and help from the Holy Spirit in my mind."

He reported that Catholics at recent confirmation Masses at parishes in Texas kept telling him they are praying for him and for the Holy Father.

Cardinal O'Malley said he considers his conclave vote "one of the most important activities I will be engaged in, as a priest and a cardinal."

"As soon as the Holy Father made the announcement, I've been bringing this to prayer, asking the Holy Spirit's help to be able to discern what is God's will."

The 2013 conclave will be the first in modern times to take place after a papal resignation.

Cardinal O'Malley said it is "very difficult" to predict the long-term effects of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation.

He said it could affect the conclave's decision to elect an older man, knowing that he would not have to continue as Pope into his 90s.

The outgoing Pope Benedict XVI met with 144 cardinals on the morning of his resignation. He spoke with each one individually.

"He addressed the cardinals this morning with a lot of affection," said Cardinal O'Malley. "He will never be forgotten and he will always be in our hearts."