Pope's Resignation An Opportunity For Africa's Cardinals
The names of African cardinals are popping up as possible contenders to succeed Pope Benedict as head of the Roman Catholic Church when he steps down at the end of the month.
The Mary Mother of Good Council School is one of a number of respected Roman Catholic schools overseen by the archdiocese of Accra, the capital of the West African nation of Ghana. The Metropolitan archbishop of Accra, Charles Palmer-Buckle, who trained as a priest at pontifical universities in Rome, is upbeat about the continent's contribution to the Catholic Church.
"The pope himself said that he considered Africa the spiritual lungs of humanity," Palmer-Buckle said, "which means that the pope has a lot of expectation that Africa has something to offer humanity, to give humanity a good breath of life."
With more than 150 million Catholics in Africa and counting, the continent is the fastest growing region for Catholicism in the world. Global bookies are putting the odds on the next Catholic pontiff coming perhaps from Africa.
"Many people look to Africa because that's the place where the church is growing and is very lively," says Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. "What we really need is someone who can deal with the problems of the church, which are in Europe and the United States. So I think that argument is going to go on during the conclave."
The conclave is the gathering of cardinals under 80 who will vote to elect a new pope.
But Fr. Reese says that, with cardinals from Europe making up more than half of the College of Cardinals that will choose the new pontiff, he believes another European may be elected the next pope.
"The fact that we are talking about several possible candidates from Africa is a problem for an African candidate," he says.
Reese adds that if the focus was on a single candidate from Africa, then it would likely be taken seriously. "The fact that we're talking about more means that the support for an African pope is spread too thinly," he says.
Names that keep cropping up as possible African candidates include 80-year-old Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria and Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson. At 64, Turkson is youngish by Vatican standards, but he already has considerable experience running an archdiocese in Ghana. In 2009, the pope appointed him to head the influential Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Reese says a combination of pastoral and Vatican exposure is usually an advantage.
"Every ordained bishop can be the next pope," Turkson told the BBC. "In that sense, as long as I'm a bishop and a cardinal, I'm a candidate with all the cardinals and bishops around the world."
Turkson said that as the church looks for leadership, it could come from Africa, Latin America or Asia, but that ultimately "we leave it to God to give to the church the leader that would best serve humanity and the task of the church in history."
After Mass in Accra, Ghana, this week, Catholic worshippers shared their views about the possibility of an African becoming pope.
"Considering the fact that the Catholic Church has a lot of hope in Africa, I think there's a very big possibility of us getting an African pope," Marilyn Ofori said. "I think he'll make a lot of difference and then use our African values as well to better the Catholic Church."
But Anthony Mensah-Bonsu warns, "they shouldn't be mentioning African names." He says the focus is unfortunate and that too much talk about possible papal candidates from Africa could prove disadvantageous to them or simply put them out of the running come election time.
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