Saturday 15 Jun 2024

The Holy See in black and white

Benedict's resignation renews calls for an African pope

AFP | FEBRUARY 16, 2013, 11:18 AM IST

Pope Benedict XVI's resignation has sparked calls for hissuccessor to come from Africa, home to the world's fastest-growing populationand the front line of key issues facing the Roman Catholic Church. Around 15percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live in Africa and the percentagehas expanded significantly in recent years in comparison to other parts of theworld. Much of the Catholic Church's recent growth has come in the developingworld, with the most rapid expansions in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Names such as Ghana's Peter Turkson and Nigerian JohnOnaiyekan have been mentioned as potential papal material, as has FrancisArinze, also from Nigeria and considered a possibility when Benedict waselected, but who is now 80. Some analysts see the issue as one of justice sinceAfrica has contributed to the Catholic Church to such a large degree, as well asa reflection of a changing world.

"I think that, with the black community'srepresentation in the larger Catholic community, it is legitimate that we havea black pope," said Rene Legre Hokou, head of the Ivory Coast League ofHuman Rights. "An African pope could give more vitality to the CatholicChurch in the black world. It would demonstrate the universal character of thereligion." A number of African Catholic Church members had a mixed viewhowever, saying they would like to see a fellow African elected pope, butwanted the most qualified person, no matter where he is from.

Pat Utomi, a prominent Catholic in Nigeria who is aneconomist and former presidential candidate, said he would take pride in seeingan African elected, "but we must take that away." "I think whatmatters is the right person with the vision for the moment," Utomi said.At the same time, he said Africa in several ways was representative of majorchallenges facing the Church, particularly its relationship with an evangelicalmovement with explosive growth on the continent as well as with Islam.

Africans have flocked to evangelical religions, with manyseeing them as more relevant to their daily lives, posing a challenge to theCatholic Church. Also in countries like Nigeria, roughly divided between amainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south, religious and ethnictensions have led to violence.

Vatican watchers say the college of cardinals may seize themoment to elect a Latin-American, African or Asian pope. Others say 85-year-oldBenedict -- who is resigning for age reasons -- may call on the cardinals toelect someone younger, who is less likely to suffer failing health early in hismandate.

"The world is now multi-colour," Polish priestStanislaw Skuza said.

Share this