Published: Feb 21, 2013 11:39 PM EST
Updated: Feb 22, 2013 12:10 AM EST

NAPLES, Fla. - A religious leader who will help choose the next Pope was in Naples tonight. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C. was the keynote speaker at Ave Maria University's 2nd annual scholarship dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort.

Before he spoke, he shared some insight into the crucial weeks that lie ahead. Cardinal Wuerl is one of 117 cardinals from all corners of the world who will help write the next chapter in the history of the Catholic Church. "Its a moment, however long that moment might be, days, weeks, it's a moment of silence," Wuerl said.

He's focusing on that silence and openness as he takes on the incredible responsibility of selecting the Pope to succeed Benedict XVI when he steps down February 28th. Wuerl said he's looking for a candidate "who continues that wonderful legacy of Blessed John Paul II and of Benedict XVI, that keeps us focused on the spiritual mission of the church."

There are 11 American Cardinals heading to Rome. Already, names like Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston have surfaced as potential candidates. When asked if an American Pope is in the realm of possibility, Wuerl said, "It's probably going to be more wishful thinking on the part of some of us who love some of the American Cardinals. The United States is the world's only super power and part of the spiritual mission of the Pope is to from time to time, remind all of us how that power is supposed to be used. It's probably best done by someone who isn't identified with the United States."

Wuerl said the Cardinals will spend a few days getting to know one another.
But once inside the conclave, there will be silence, prayer and reflection. He said the new Pope faces the challenge of secularism and its growing influence on the world. "The task of the Pope is to remain faithful to the tradition and see that he holds the whole family together," Wuerl said. "That is going to be his major task."

The reason behind Thursday's event is Ave Maria's scholarship program which awards nearly $10 million to students each year.

Cardinal Wuerl flew back to Washington D.C. after the dinner. He leaves Sunday for Vatican City.