Is the World Ready for a Black African Pope?


Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana

Since the surprise announced resignation of Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) on Monday February 11, 2013 that he will step down as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church on February 28, 2013, there have been a storm of speculations as to who will be elected as the next Pope. It should first of all be noted that Pope Benedict XVI is the first pope to step down or resign in nearly 600 years.With more than 150 million Catholics, Africa is the fastest growing region for Catholicism in the world. As a result the talk of an African Pope this time around is louder than in 2005.In 2005, when Pope John Paul II died, most of the hope for an African pope was centered on Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, then 73 years old, presently the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Cardinal Francis Arinze is currently 80 years old. This is an important piece of information to note because the fact is that no Cardinal over the age of 80 may be elected Pope. Although Cardinal Arinze is still 80 and not over 80 yet, African Celebrities Magazine predicts that Cardinal Arinze would not be Pope even if it goes to Africa this time.

Today, fast forward to 2013, after the announced resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, many believe more than ever that the next Catholic pontiff could come from Africa. But the question is…is the World Ready for a Black African Pope? This question is one that is raising a lot of dust around the world for many reasons. But before analyzing what this question entails, let’s look at who the possible contenders from Africa are.

There are 11 African Cardinals (all under 80 years of age) that could be Pope, namely: Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana (64); Cadinals kogie (76) and Onaiyekan (69) of Nigeria; Cardinal Naguib of Egypt (77); cardinal Sarah of Guinea (67); Cardinal Sarr of Senegal (76); Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya (73) of Congo-Kishasa; Cardinal Njue of Kenya (69);  Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako (71) of Sudan; Cardinal Polycarp Pengo (68) of Tanzania; and Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier (71) of South Africa.

There is much talk about one Cardinal this time, in the person of Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana who is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Cardinal Peter Turkson at 64 years of age, is currently the youngest African Cardinal and therefore the most viable to be elected Pope. If he is elected Pope, he is going to go down on records as the first ever Black African Pope and the first Pope outside Europe in more than 1,000 years. At 64, Cardinal Turkson is “young” by Vatican standards. One thing that is not “young” about him is that he already has considerable experience running an archdiocese in Ghana and in 2009, appointed by Pope Benedict as the head of the influential Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. This combination of pastoral and Vatican exposure also puts him in an advantageous position. Although there are 11 possible contenders from Africa, none is as popular as Cardinal Turkson at this moment. The rest were appointed recently and do not have the rank and experience within Vatican politics as the Ghanaian.

Vatican Politics and the Politics of the Papal Conclave

In 1059, the College of Cardinals was designated the sole body of electors. In 1970, Pope Paul VI limited the electors to only cardinals less than 80 years of age. Pope John Paul II amended the current procedure on 11 June 2007. In his amendment, a two-thirds plus one supermajority vote is required to elect the new pope, which also requires an acceptance from the person elected.

A papal conclave also referred to simply as the ‘Conclave’ or “the Conclave of Cardinals” is a meeting of the College of Cardinals convened to elect a new Bishop of Rome, also known as the Pope.

Church rules say the conclave, held at the Sistine Chapel, has to start between 15 and 20 days after the papacy becomes vacant. As a result we expect the meeting of the College of Cardinals to convene on or after March 15th, 2013. As a reminder, this will be a gathering only of cardinals under 80 years of age.

Therefore of all the 118 Cardinals that will be voting to choose the next Pope, Africa will have just 11 electors as opposed to 62 from Europe alone. North America has 17 electors, South America has 13, Central America has 3, Asia has 11 and Oceania has 1. Going by politics alone, it will be difficult for an African to be elected the next pope except other Cardinals from South America, Asia and Oceania and North America break ranks to support an African for Pope.

With cardinals from Europe making up more than half of the College of Cardinals that will choose the new pontiff, many skeptics now believe that another European may be elected the next Pope.

The questions for all of us observing from afar are as follows: Is Vatican politics as regionally oriented as the politics of other Nations? Is Spirituality a factor? Does God and honesty play a role? Is race a factor? Do Catholic cardinals see all humans as equal when it comes to voting for Pope as the Bible and God would dictate?

In recent years, Catholic Church congregation growth has been fastest in Africa and Asia and relatively static in Europe. One thing is certain though, all the chatter about who should be the next Pope reflects the one universal truth of all faiths. We are human, good and bad, sinners and saints. If this will factor into who the cardinals choose and not based on regionalism or race, then we could say at the end that, whoever is chosen Pope was chosen based on honesty and respect for God and not based on politics, race or regionalism.

To many pundits, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana has all the qualities the cardinals should be looking for. But again, someone said to this writer that…“The Church is correct but not politically-correct”. Whatever that means is subject to interpretation.

So coming back to if the world is Ready for a Black African Pope…it is fair to say many Christians sometimes substitute Christianity for convenience and race. Normally, Christianity is not based on region, color, or what the world thinks is right. To this author and African Celebrities Magazine, the world is never ready for anything because people sometimes hate change until it is forced down their throat. Then suddenly they start liking and appreciating that change. This same question was asked before President Barack Obama was elected President of the United States of America. There are many non-blacks who never dreamt it could happen, talk less of the fact that he would become one of the greatest Presidents of the United States. Whether the world was ready or not was not the issue. He was just a great person wanting to change the lives of many Americans.

Today, we can say the same. The world might think it is not ready for a black Pope. Maybe the world even needs a black Pope, but it doesn’t know it yet. Until that happens we will never be able to assess. The question is whether the Catholic Cardinals are ready to be true Christians to make decisions without fear or favor. Whoever is elected Pope based on that will be a good choice made from a good heart.