In recent years, DiNardo said, the church has seen a shift toward refocusing on this important segment of Catholics.
In 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI selected DiNardo as the first cardinal from Texas, many saw it as a symbol that the church was beginning to recognize that the "center of gravity" of American Catholicism has shifted south.
"The growth of the Catholic population in the southern part of the United States in recent years is something extraordinary," DiNardo told the Houston Chronicle at the time. "I believe one of the reasons is the Holy See's genuine confidence in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston as a growing, dynamic area."
In 2010 Archbishop Jose Horacio Gomez was sent from San Antonio, Texas, to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles , the largest in the United States, by Pope Benedict XVI -- making Gomez the highest-ranking Hispanic bishop in the United States and on track to be this country's first Hispanic cardinal.
But as the cardinals gather to vote on the next pope, the question remains whether the growth in the southern United States, and especially in Latin America, can overcome the European dominance of the Vatican's decision makers in the College of Cardinals.